Motion made, and Question proposed,
That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen, not exceeding 240,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1958.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. George Ward)
I am putting before the Committee today a Vote on Account and Vote A for the Royal Air Force. Because this is, in a way, an interim debate, I do not want to anticipate too much of what will be said in the Air Estimates Memorandum and I want to be fairly brief.
I should like to deal in broad terms with the position of air power today and in the future: the rôles which the Royal Air Force will have to play; the kind of officers and airmen it will need; and the preparations we are making for the transition to guided weapons, especially in the field of training.
The figure of £240 million is approximately the sum that we think we may have to spend on the R.A.F. in the four or five months before the Appropriation Bill is enacted. It includes about £3,300,000 for a start on essential works which cannot be delayed.
The sum was arrived at by taking a figure for gross expenditure a little below that provided in last year's Estimates and scaling it down proportionately. We had, of course, to take into account that we shall not be receiving the greater part of the appropriations in aid until later in the year. Depending on the amount eventually provided for the whole of the financial year, the Vote on Account will cover a shorter or a longer period.
The figure for Vote A is a maximum figure of 240,000. I may say, in parenthesis, that the similarity between these 540 two figures is purely coincidental. This is a reduction on the previous year and, indeed, the figure has been declining now for some years, primarily by means of a continuing reduction in our annual intake' of National Service men.
Certainly, the Royal Air Force welcomes a move in this direction. In such a highly technical force, when it takes so long to train pilots and advanced tradesmen, there are, as the Committee well knows, many and great advantages in building up the Regular content of the force. The actual size of the Royal Air Force must, obviously, be related to its tasks. Even so, a smaller air force, with a clear-cut task and equipped with the right weapons to do its job, can, I am sure, be an air force of high morale and great pride of service.
But we must get the shape right. What will be the rôle of the Royal Air Force in the next year or two, and, indeed, looking further ahead? There has been quite a lot of speculation about this recently and I am afarid that much of it has been a little wild and somewhat ill-informed. The important thing to remember is that the Royal Air Force has got certain basic military tasks and that the type of weapon with which it is equipped to fulfil these tasks is, in a sense, a subsidiary matter. The shape of the force is governed far more by its job, than by the weapons it uses.
Let me briefly restate the rôle of the Royal Air Force. Its first and main task will be to provide the United Kingdom contribution to the deterrent. The gradual introduction of ballistic rockets will merely be a further development in the deterrent strategy on which the R.A.F. is based and a round which it must be shaped.
The actual size of the bomber force is a difficult matter of judgment. How big does the stick have to be if it is to deter? What is the size of the contribution we can afford to make to the power of retaliation? These are matters for study, but, in any case, the bomber force must be equipped with aircraft or weapons which are clearly able to penetrate to vital targets.
The deterrent itself will be provided increasingly by rockets as soon as they have been developed enough in accuracy and range. But even with the ballistic rocket, I wonder whether it is wise to 541 talk about the ultimate weapon. Certainly, the long history of military strategy is against such a concept.
The deterrent, if it is to be effective, must be protected by an air defence system and a control and reporting system which will give warning of an enemy attack and which will control and direct the use of fighter defence. Here, again, we are carefully studying the size of the fighter force, and its future equipment, against the background of the introduction of surface-to-air guided weapons. But what is certain is that for some years to come we shall rely mainly upon the tighter pilot for the air defence of these islands.
I should not like to leave the subject of the fighter force without paying a tribute to the auxiliary fighter squadrons. It is very sad indeed to have to disband units which had such a great record in the last war and have kept up such a fine spirit and standard of efficiency in peace. They go in the knowledge of their own high efficiency and the country's lasting appreciation of their loyal service.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
So that it may be repeated again and again, will the right hon. Gentleman say what is being done by the Government to show that the country feels so proud of the work that these men and their predecessors have done and to express the gratitude of all of us?
§ Mr. Ward
It has already been published that on Saturday week, Her Majesty The Queen is receiving all the squadron commanders and the senior auxiliaries at Buckingham Palace; and I aim entertaining them here in the House of Commons the same evening.
Secondly, the Royal Air Force will continue to bring the various branches of air power to bear in support of our international obligations. In this rôle the Royal Air Force has wide responsibilities both in its own right and in supporting operations of the other two Services. The smaller our Armed Forces are the more important will mobility be. In Transport Command we are building up a balanced force which will give effective strategic and tactical mobility to all three Services. In addition to the transport force, the Royal Navy will need maritime aircraft 542 of the R.A.F. to operate with it, and the Army overseas must be provided with air strike support and reconnaissance.
Thirdly, the Royal Air Force will play its part in defending British territories overseas, particularly in small local troubles, when the swift deployment of a few aircraft can rapidly stop greater troubles. In these rôles manned aircraft will not be superseded for as long as we can foresee.
Those are the basic principles and as far as one can see the responsibilities which flow from them will remain. The only difference will be—and it is not really a difference because the Air Force has seen its equipment continually changing and developing ever since its birth—that some of these rôles will be achieved by different weapons.
I have heard it suggested, though not in the House of Commons, that those who have spent years in association with manned aircraft are anti-rocket minded. This is quite wrong, and I should like to stress as strongly as I can that the Royal Air Force wants rockets as soon as it can get them and wants to introduce them operationally as soon as they are proved and reliable and seen to be more effective than manned aircraft. But rockets, like aircraft, are complicated and delicate things, and, like aircraft, the time for their development and testing is frustratingly long. It would clearly be unwise to throw away manned aircraft in any rôle until there is a proven weapon to take its place.
I will tell the Committee a little later about the many preparations we are making in the Air Force to get ready for rockets of various forms. But for the coming year I am sure that we must measure the effectiveness of our force by what it can do at the present time. We should relate the force of today not against a hypothetical threat some years ahead, but against the threat with which it will have to deal today.
As I told the House recently, our V bombers are as effective as any bombers in service with any air force in the world; and the Hunter and the Javelin are capable of intercepting any Russian bomber at present in service. In time, of course, the bomber threat will get faster and then the English Electric P.1 will replace the Hunter to deal with 543 it. The development of this aeroplane has, happily, been relatively smooth and a production order has been placed.
I have tried to show the Committee briefly that the Royal Air Force will in future, as at present time, have a key rôle in the country's defence system and defence obligations. This rôle will demand of officers and airmen qualities and responsibilities every bit as high as we have looked for and found in such high measure in the past. Moreover, the change to rockets will not come overnight and will not be accompanied by any fundamental change in the type of officer or airman needed in the Royal Air Force. After all, these weapons are essentially a development of aircraft and their use will need an understanding of air power besides leadership, judgment and technical mastery.
These are qualities which an officer must have today and I am, therefore, convinced that those in the R.A.F. will not only be able readily to adapt themselves to these new weapons, but will be of the very quality to master and operate them most efficiently. The introduction of rockets will certainly be a challenge to our adaptability, but they do not, I suggest, foreshadow sudden changes either to careers or to the value of flying. Indeed, a change of emphasis from aircraft to rockets may well bring positive advantages to a career in the Service. One of our troubles in the past has been that we have had to recruit a great many young men of high quality who are needed to fly aeroplanes, but to whom we were unable, in later life, to offer a full career. I think that this problem will become easier.
Now a word about the recruiting of airmen. The need to increase the Regular element in the Air Force is well known and is not disputed, but how are we trying to do it? The problem divides itself into two main tasks which I would like to deal with in turn. The first, of course, is the build-up of Regulars and the second is the search for economies which will allow us to reduce the number of uniformed men we need.
The main object of the improvement in conditions of service which were introduced a year ago was to improve the number of Regular recruits and to encourge men to sign on for longer term engagements. We have had a good deal 544 of success in both these aims, particularly the last one, although, of course, we still want to increase our Regular recruiting even further.
Let me give a few examples. From April to December last year there was an increase, compared with the same period for 1955, of nearly 15 per cent. in Regular recruiting from civil life. The number of people rejoining from civil life, with previous R.A.F. service, has also been most encouraging. So, also, have the numbers of airmen already serving who have extended their service or re-engaged to pensionable age. Airmen serving on engagements of twelve years or more have gone up from 44,700 in April last year to 51,100 in December. There has been some improvement in the number of airwomen recruits, but I am afraid, that it is not yet big enough to compensate for the large number who leave the Service each year.
As the Committee knows, it is of first importance to build up the number of long-service Regulars in the four main engineering trade groups. This will enable us to create the level of experience that is so essential to a modern air force and to reduce our training overheads. However, recent months have begun to show such an improvement in these trade groups that, looking ahead, we may well find that our greater problems are to build up the essential supporting trades such as radar operators, and other administrative and domestic trades. It is in these trades that we want greatly to increase the employment of members of the Women's Royal Air Force.
The other side of the manpower problem is, as I have already said, the need to reduce our requirement for uniformed men. As my predecessor explained last year, in introducing the Estimates, the Air Ministry has been at great pains ever since the end of the war to review Air Force organisation and our use of manpower. Our ordinary, traditional methods have been reinforced by a number of special committees which have included representatives from both sides of industry.
There is now a Directorate of Work Study at the Air Ministry and trained work study staffs have been set up at Command Headquarters. A lot has been done to train R.A.F. officers in the application of work study techniques and over 545 half the officers of air rank serving in this country have been on courses to help them appreciate and support the efforts of their specialist work study advisers.
Here are some examples of economies which have been made in the past year. We have been able to reorganise Home Command and save four formation headquarters and about 500 posts. We have closed two recruit depots in Technical Training Command. In Maintenance Command, we have been able to close several complete units and a number of storage sites. These and other measures have saved nearly 10,000 posts.
The R.A.F. has also gone a very long way in substituting civilians for airmen. It is, of course, the ratio of civilians to airmen that matters and not the total number of either. The proportion of civilians employed in Maintenance Command was 49 per cent. at the beginning of 1952 54 per cent. at the beginning of 1956, and by the beginning of this year it had risen to 60 per cent. I hope that this process will continue and that we shall be able to make more use of civilians in other Commands both at home and overseas. But, as the Committee will appreciate, the further we go in this direction, the harder it becomes.
Finally, a good method of saving Service manpower is to give work direct to industry. Nearly all major repairs to aircraft and equipment are now carried out by industry. We make considerable use of contractors' working parties for on-site repairs, modifications and salvage. In addition, the servicing of aircraft at a number of training and communications units is done by industry, and we are seeing whether we can extend these arrangements any further.
Let me now turn for a moment to the training of future officers for the R.A.F. There has been a marked improvement in the quality and numbers of general duties cadets entering Cranwell. This is chiefly because R.A.F. scholars are beginning to come in under the scheme which was introduced at the end of 1953.
At Henlow, the entry of technical cadets was slightly lower in 1956 than it was in 1955. Nevertheless, I think that we can be very well pleased at the way in which Henlow has developed recently. We want to try to get cadets of as high 546 a quality as possible Into this important college. We have, therefore, extended the scholarship scheme to cover potential Henlow as well as Cranwell cadets, and some improvements to the scheme have been introduced. Besides the maintenance grant of up to £100 a year which can be made on a sliding scale according to the parent's net income, every parent can now get a refund of school fees up to £100.
So far as flying training is concerned, the Committee already knows that we lead the world in pioneering all-through flying training on jet aircraft. The trials that we have done have shown that this has so many definite advantages that we have decided to establish Jet Provost training on a larger scale.
The first Henlow cadets to complete their university training passed out in 1956 and 11 of them took honours degrees in engineering, which was most satisfactory. Of the cadets who stayed at Henlow for the full three year course, 20 have been awarded the higher national diploma in mechanical or electrical engineering over the past two years.
How is all this training related to the equipment which will be coming into the R.A.F.? Are we building up a core of officers and men to be ready in advance of the new weapons? Already, we have made considerable progress in this direction. Particular attention has been paid to the needs of guided weapons, nuclear weapons and electronic equipment.
The training of officers in guided weapon principles and techniques began at the R.A.F. Technical College in 1951 and at the R.A.F. Flying College, in 1954. There are several guided weapons courses at these colleges and they vary in length up to 15 months. An Advanced Armament Course, lasting two years, covers latest developments in nuclear and guided weapons. Officers attend courses at Harwell in nuclear physics and reactor engineering.
As regards the introduction of guided weapons into the Service, special units have been formed to conduct acceptance trials under the control of the Ministry of Supply. The Royal Air Force men for these units have been attached to manufacturers during the development stage; and, after acceptance trials, they will carry out the service trials of these weapons in the R.A.F. Twenty-seven 547 officers and 100 airmen are at present at Woomera, and these numbers will increase this year.
In addition to these men, there are others working with companies manufacturing the weapons. These training courses range over a wide field in modern engineering and electronics varying in length from 27 to 33 weeks. At the end of that time an airman can qualify as an advanced tradesman with a thorough knowledge of all the principles and procedures of his trade and of the equipment used in it.
At R.A.F. stations we have provided a great number of training aids and simulators, and many more are being produced. Perhaps most interesting are those in use for guided weapons training. At our first G.W. station, where we will carry out training on surface-to-air rockets, we are building a simulator. This can reproduce synthetically attacks by enemy aircraft and it enables teams to practice interceptions under realistic conditions.
We have not the full Estimates for 1957–58 before us today, so I have not spoken about the details of the coming year. I have rather tried to look ahead to the future evolution of the R.A.F. and I hope that my brief survey may have helped the Committee. I thought that it would be useful to do this as there has been widespread interest about the effect of new weapons on the R.A.F.
I have tried to show the Committee that these weapons do not basically alter the various rôles of air power, and to explain how the R.A.F. is keenly preparing and adapting itself for them.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Before the Minister leaves this point, could he tell us whether any of the expenditure under this Vote is for the rocket range at South Uist?
§ Mr. Ward
No, I do not think it is, but I would like to check on that.
I am confident that the R.A.F. will meet the new challenge with its traditional fine spirit and great efficiency, and will continue to offer a long, interesting and honourable career to those men and women who are wise enough to join it.
§ 4.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey de Freitas (Lincoln)
I want to begin by congratulating both the Secretary of State for Air and the Under- 548 Secretary of State on their appointments. If there must be Conservative Ministers, we could do a great deal worse. We know the Secretary of State well, and it is always a pleasure to debate with him.
The right hon. Gentleman said that he had tried to look ahead, and so he did, but he appeared to think that it was the fault of somebody besides the Government that we have not the detailed Estimates to deal with today. Each year, for several years past, we have had less and less information from the Government on this important aspect of our defences. Two years ago we had very little information, last year next to nothing, and this year we have come to nothing at all.
It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that a great deal of the criticism made of the Royal Air Force is ill-founded—no, "ill-informed" was the word he used. Of course it is ill-informed. How can criticism be made of this important Service unless more facts are given to us? What have we got? After five years the Government are still so baffled that they cannot even produce their plans for the R.A.F. for the coming year. That is a tremendous confession of failure. Instead of having, as we are entitled to expect, a volume one inch or two inches thick, containing facts and figures about the Royal Air Force, we have a tiny sheet of paper.
These scraps of paper are supplemented by the speech of the Secretary of State. The speech to which we have just listened was, frankly, by far the most ineffective of any that I have heard on this subject, and I have heard every speech of this kind since 1945. Yet the onus is on the Government, and after five and a half years of power they come to us and say that they still do not know what is the pattern of our defence. They have not produced a White Paper, they have not produced the Estimates, and we have to take it on trust.
One thing has emerged. It is clear that our policy, ten years ago, to go all out for the V-bomber was right, and its arrival has achieved our aim, which was to create an independent deterrent force. Two things flow from that. The first concerns manning. We must not forget that one V-bomber with an atomic bomb is equal in firepower to about 2,000 conventional aircraft each carrying 10 tons 549 of high explosive. Those are not new facts; indeed, they are elementary. I cite them because we must recognise the enormous change that is bound to make in the whole structure of a service which could not help thinking so recently in terms of 1,000-bomber raids. Are all those considerations taken into account when reckoning the manpower requirements and, above all, the necessity for conscription?
I was alarmed by what the right hon. Gentleman said. Even if we assume that the V-bombers will be ready to carry the deterrent for the next decade, the decision as to what is to replace them should surely have been made already. I was very surprised and alarmed to hear the Secretary of State say that it was subject to study. I am sure that there is continuing study, but does that mean that the Government have not yet decided whether we are to have a supersonic bomber developed as replacement for the V-bombers, or whether we are to turn to missiles to replace them? If we have not made that decision already it is a most alarming fact.
Here I should like to quote from a book entitled, "Rocket" by Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferte. He says some kind things about the Minister of Defence, but they are not relevant for the moment. Sir Philip is no supporter of the Socialist Party, incidentally. He writes, in page 128:There does not seem to be sufficient sense of urgency amongst our leaders. Their actions are still affected by the vested interests of manufacturers, particularly those in the aircraft industry whose production lines are cluttered up with aeroplanes—the old-fashioned word seems appropriate—that mean money to them hut no security to usI have been worried about this before, but I am far more worried since I heard what the Secretary of State said about the replacement of the V-bomber. Is the country coming to this state, that the Government are easy meat for the established aircraft manufacturers, who are doing very well? Or have we not even made the decision whether to go over to guided missiles as replacements for the V-bombers? The Government should have made that decision long ago.
The Committee is certainly entitled to some broad assurances. The first one is that we are not wasting our money and resources on developing a long-range 550 ground-to-ground missile. Why do we need it? Look at the ranges which we have to cover. The Americans and the Russians think that they need it, and the Americans, we know, are developing one. Yet I read this morning, in The Times, an extract from a report of the Society of British Aircraft Constructors which states, as far as I can understand it, that the industry in this country is today working on a long-range ground-to-ground missile—one of these inter-continental missiles. I sincerely hope that that is not so.
The second assurance I should like is that we are developing a medium-range ground-to-ground missile to replace our V-bombers in due course. The third assurance which we should have is that we are not wasting our money and resources either on fighters inferior in performance to American fighters or on obsolescent American ground-to-air missiles. I will ask some questions on those two last points. For many reasons we need this information, not least because it is directly relevant to the manpower required to support the force, for if the shape of the force is altered, with more missiles, the manpower requirements are different.
Against the present threat of manned bombers we should use the best manned fighters we have, presumably the Hunter VI or American fighters. They would have to be armed as soon as possible with air-to-air missiles. What air-to-air missiles have we? What has happened to the De Havilland infra-red missiles, about which we heard so much only a few months ago?
What is the future of the single-seater fighter? This is the problem. It is not a fanciful problem. It is of an enemy bomber flying at 60,000 feet and at 700 knots approaching its target, having used up very nearly half its fuel and, therefore, being fairly manoeuvreable. Up goes a single-seater fighter still with a great deal of its fuel and, therefore, not nearly as manoeuvreable. The pilot has to listen to the ground, to read his cathode ray tubes, wearing his G-suit, look at his instruments, all the time trying to stay the right side up at a speed nearly stalling speed. Surely, as several authorities have argued, he has an impossible task if he is also required to fight his aircraft. It is impossible to expect one man to tackle so many tasks.
551 should like to know whether this is an exaggeration? If not, which single-seater fighter can be used. Which is it to be? Is it to be the P.1? We are in the dark about these things and it is difficult to debate them intelligently, as I am sure the Minister appreciates. We read that the P.1 will develop in the course of the next few years to Mach 1.7, and then we read that the U.S. Super Sabre, a proved aircraft, is developing along its course so that probably this year it will have gone up to Mach 2. Can we be given any guidance whether it is right? Also, we read on the front page of the Daily Mail a few days ago, that a huge order, amounting to £100 million, has been placed for the P.1? Does that mean that we are going all out on the P.1?
Supposing it is accepted that the single-seater fighter is not effective, for some of the reasons which I gave and others, too, then what is the position with our manned interceptors? They should have longer endurance and also have a radar operator-gunner who would launch the air-to-air missiles. Is there any sign that if we are to have other than single-seater fighters we have a development proceeding of the Javelin or some other aircraft? I have heard of no other aircraft. Or are we to look abroad?
I also wanted an assurance that we were not wasting our money and resources on obsolescent American ground-to-air missiles. I believe that our policy in this respect should be to develop ground-to-air missiles as soon as we can, to pool our resources, to get as much co-operation as we can with America, and to work with the Americans at every level. Our very existence, in a few years' time, may depend on ground-to-air missiles and we cannot base our defence on them if there is any fear that we are getting obsolescent ground-to-air missiles from the United States as they re-equip. We have not had the information that we should like about the Minister of Defence's visit to Washington. Until we have some of the details it is difficult to debate the matter, and the possibility that we are banking too much on this obsolescent equipment is alarming.
The gradual replacement of certain types of manned aircraft by missiles of one kind or another will have many results. I would mention one, in passing, because people are entitled to draw what 552 little pleasure there is in living in a press-button world from the fact that it is press-button. As there are more missiles, there will be less flying done, as we understanding flying today. I am talking of military flying. I hope that the R.A.F. will adapt a policy, as far as possible, of concentrating its flying at airfields away from the most densely populated areas. Not everyone will benefit from this aspect of press-button warfare, but I should like to think that there will be some who will.
The Secretary of State gave us a peep into the future and into the manning implications of the coming changes. I should like to take up some of his points and ask some questions, too. First, it is clear that we have reached a stage in the development of war which has never happened before. It is true that the invention of gunpowder had an effect in changing war, but there still had to be a man in the front line with a musket, and, even in our own time, a considerable number of men have been engaged in 1,000-bomber raids. Now we have this change when we have an industrial army in the factories and comparatively few men, not only in the front line, but also in close support.
What are the manning requirements for operating missiles? How will that affect the trade structure of the Royal Air Force? What different skills will be required and what will be the position of the various electronic trades? Is the Air Council really looking ahead on this matter? I ask these questions a little doubtfully, because last year, and once or twice during the year, we pressed the Government to see what was being done about the recommendations of the Hollinghurst Committee, but we have had little information out of it.
We know that during the year the R.A.F. had great problems. For instance, it is affected, as all other aspects of the Services are affected, and indeed, every citizen of the country, with what can only be described as the failure—or was it a defeat?—to get support costs from Germany which were adequate to maintain a large part of our forces there. It is right to ask what are the units of the R.A.F. doing in Germany? What is their rôle? I am not suggesting at the moment that they should be pulled out. I am asking what are they doing there? There must be 20,000 men there. What are they doing?
553 I make no complaint about the Government in this, because it is the fault of our system. It is a problem which we have not yet been able to solve, but it appears to me to be ridiculous that we in this House do not know the disposition, armament or plans for movement of our own R.A.F. units in Germany, while that information is available to Opposition back benchers who happen to be on the Defence Committees in the Danish and Belgian Parliaments, and, for all I know, in the Luxembourg Parliament.
That is the situation. We have this problem, and it cannot be solved in this debate today, but, When that is considered it is right that we should be given as much information as possible by the Government. The matter should not be written off on the grounds of the importance of security. There must be hundreds of people on the Continent who know these facts beside the people in the direct chain of command.
I have frequently said in this House, and I repeat it today, because it is most important, that we advocate the abolition of the call-up at the end of 1958 and thus the gradual disappearance of National Service by the end of 1960. The Royal Air Force, above all other Services, or at least as much as the Royal Navy, should welcome the end of National Service. I do not think that the R.A.F. itself really wanted it in the first place.
I was sorry not to hear more from the Secretary of State about the reshaping of the two costly non-operational commands. For instance, in regard to Flying Training Command, I have always wondered about the over-insurance of aircrew and the number of aircrew produced. I used to worry about it when the cost was about £25,000 to train a pilot, but I am much more worried about it now, when, if, by miscalculation, only a dozen unnecessary pilots are trained, the extra cost is over £500,000.
As far as technical training is concerned, National Service has completely distorted Technical Training Command, which has been turned into a gigantic adult education organisation. The abolition of National Service will allow it to concentrate on its real task, which is to train technicians and keep them up to date. More than ever, the R.A.F. still 554 needs quality and not quantity, both in the air and on the ground. The Service needs fewer and fewer men and, in many cases, men of greater skill.
I see that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) is here, as he has been in every one of these debates since I came into the House. I think my hon. Friend knows that it is in the tradition of our party always to look carefully at the conditions of service of the man in the Services. This goes back to the day when Keir Hardie raised a storm in this House because three Welsh Fusiliers had been given rotten biscuits. Keir Hardie said that he did not like the officers of his day, and pointed out that their view of what the Army felt was about as valuable as what the employer thought of what the workman felt.
Today, in the Services, there is far less class distinction than in those days. This is especially so in the R.A.F. But, having said that, if we are to rely on a volunteer force, we must see that the conditions in the Service are in accordance with something I find had to describe but which might be called the egalitarian spirit of the factory, and also in accordance with the status of the engineer in modem society. We must recognise that.
It is vital to the whole R.A.F. that there should be this recognition of the status of the engineer in the society in which we live. It is harder for those of us who have a background of education which ignored engineering in all its manifestations to appreciate that point, but if the Service does not appreciate it and adapt itself accordingly, it will not be able to play its part in this modern world. I think that the Service has not shown itself sufficiently alert to this problem. There is less than there used to be—and that makes me emphasise the need for doing away with it altogether—of the idea that an airman is another kind of pre-1914 infantry soldier who should waste his time in square-bashing. He is not; he is a technician in uniform, and that is the right way to consider him.
I shall put some questions to the Under-Secretary of State, which I hope he will answer when he replies to the debate. First, on what day and where was the last pay parade—army style—held in the R.A.F.? Secondly, how far 555 has the method of payment of skilled tradesmen in the R.A.F. been brought into line with what is done in industry, because the fact that a man is in a military organisation does not mean that he should waste his time in unnecessary parades?
There is one small matter which was raised by one of my hon. Friends during the year. It concerns the issue of raincoats to Service men. It seems to be a small point. As hon. Members know, an airman is issued with a ground sheet, which he can use when it is raining, and with a greatcoat—I think that the practice is still the same. The factory worker has a raincoat as part of his equipment. It is almost a part of our national dress and we must recognise that if the Royal Air Force is to compete with the civilian market it must offer conditions as good as those in the civilian market.
I intervened during the Secretary of State's speech when he touched on the subject of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. I will say no more on that, because if my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick) succeeds in catching your eye, Sir Charles, he will develop that topic. We can all say that in the changeover of Ministers last January, there was either much squabbling about who should take credit for the axe, or much squabbling about who should take the blame for the axe. The announcement about the Royal Auxiliary Air Force was postponed and postponed until it was finally released in a form in which it looked like an ungracious dismissal. The auxiliary squadrons deserve better than that, as everyone has recognised and as the Secretary of State agrees. In one blow, great harm was done to the public relations of the Air Ministry.
The Secretary of State gave some extremely interesting figures about the numbers of engineering graduates from Henlow. It was difficult to follow them, but I shall read them carefully. Reverting to what I just said about the status of the engineer in modern society, it must be recognised that very high commands in the Royal Air Force should now be open to engineering graduates from Henlow and Cambridge. If we are to have an Air Force which means anything in this modern age, we must create a situation in which the plumbers are not just the poor relations.
556 I have discovered another disturbing piece of conservatism and I hope that the Under-Secretary will deal with it. It is the persistence in requiring that senior officers should fly so many hours a year to qualify for their flying pay. Few of these senior officers will be operational in war. The resources of the Royal Air Force should not be used by these officers for flying when they are in ground posts. It also encourages the feeling that flying is the object of the Royal Air Force. So long as the officer is eligible for a flying post, he should receive his flying pay without having to waste Royal Air Force resources in putting in so many hours. Only about one out of ten group captains can occupy a flying post and that 10 per cent. could be given refresher courses to bring them up to date at a cost infinitely less than the cost of having all such officers flying for so many hours a year.
Another disturbing aspect of conservatism which has depressed me is that in the large proportion of "Air Clues" —which I read from time to time—and of the Royal Flying Review, which I read regularly, so much space is devoted to the battles of long ago. Even the advertisements seem to have a "Let's get back to the old days" approach. Some of the Service aviation magazines are more like antiquarian magazines than magazines connected with the most modern of our Services.
It is difficult exactly to assess why this is so. It depresses me because instead of looking to the future, the Royal Air Force is in danger of becoming old before its time. That would be tragic at this stage when there is uncertainty about the exact future rôle of the flying man in the Royal Air Force. For many years to come, the Royal Air Force will be attractive to men of good physique and education who are men of action and adventure. One does not have to take space travel and the Royal Air Force motto literally to present the idea of an attractive life in the Royal Air Force to young men who look to the future.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
I have in my hand a full page advertisement showing an explosion of the atom bomb, an advertisement published by the Army. Does my hon. Friend think that it is likely to attract people to the Service?
§ Mr. de Freitas
As it is published by the Army, I should have thought that my hon. Friend would have raised it next Monday. I should have thought that it would have been a valid point to make then. My hon. Friend is a few days out.
§ Mr. de Freitas
It seems to me that my hon. Friend should raise this matter on Monday. Nobody in this country wants war. Surely my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire knows that. We do not have to emphasise the horror to convince ourselves and the country that we do not want war. I agree that, on the face of it, that seems to be a most unusual advertisement for attracting young men into the Services.
There is an opportunity in a Service like the Royal Air Force not only for technicians but for men who want to fly, because there is bound to be some continuation of the manned aircraft. I hope that the Under-Secretary will try to resolve the confusion which for the general public has been intensified by the difference in the views of the Minister of Defence and the Chief of Air Staff about the rôle of the manned aircraft. I hope that the hon. Gentleman can bring it into proportion, so that the public are not driven to think that the Royal Air Force of the future will be composed entirely of technicians, but will be assured that there will be opportunities of flying. I hope that, at the same time, he will be able to resolve the problem arising from the fact that the engineer must be recognised and should be given a proper status in accordance with the needs of modern society.
I began by pointing out that we were asked to deal with this matter without detailed Estimates, as if it were merely a minor mistake, and that a proper Estimates debate would be coming along later. The significance is far more important than that. It is an illustration of the complete failure of the Government, after five and a half years, to formulate a proper defence policy. We must bear that fact in mind in our consideration of these Estimates. The Secretary of State's speech was very thin indeed, but he will have another opportunity later, and when he next presents 558 his Estimates I trust that we shall be given more information about the Royal Air Force.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Wing Commander Eric Bullus (Wembley, North)
I hope that the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) will acquit me of any discourtesy if I do not follow him in his alleged criticism of the Government. I certainly hope that I shall not follow him to the extent of catching as bad a cold as I observe he has. I sincerely hope that he will very quickly throw it off.
I should like to be associated with the compliments and good wishes which have been extended to the new Secretary of State and his Under-Secretary. This is not the first time that the present Secretary of State has spoken at the Dispatch Box on behalf of the Royal Air Force, and I have always been impressed by his interest in the subject and the work he has done for it—and not least by the way in which he has followed up points which hon. Members have raised in debate by means of letters setting out more clearly the answers to those points.
Since the end of the war debates on Service Estimates have followed a rather set pattern. I have spoken in half a dozen of them. Last year, when the present Under-Secretary was a back bencher, I recall that he turned up the speech which he had made the year before and said that he had found that it would do very well for the exigencies of the time. Today, however, more than at any time in the past, the pattern is different. We are obviously on the eve of very great changes.
The Secretary of State has not been able to give a full picture of the situation today, which means that much of our comment must be of a very general nature. It is evident, however, that fantastic possibilities lie ahead, which we can visualise only dimly but the shape of which has already formed. Until this pattern is clearer there will be a worrying time for those who have a career in the Services. It may well be that redundancy is already present in many sections of the service.
In the Navy Estimates debate speeches were made which opined over-staffing, and pronouncements have been made by 559 generals outside the House suggesting that there is redundancy in the Army. It will doubtless also be necessary to reduce personnel in the Royal Air Force. I am sure that we would all hope, however, that those who must leave the Service will be generously treated for their years of service.
I hope that it will not be merely a question of a gratuity being paid to those who are considered redundant. I wonder whether the Secretary of State could confer with organisations such as the British Industries Federation and other federations of employers, to see whether the officers and men—of good academic ability and scientific knowledge—who are displaced could not usefully be placed in industry, to do a good job of work. I hope that the Secretary of State will take up that suggestion and, if possible, get in touch with these employers' organisations. If these redundant men are not generously treated future recruiting to the Service must inevitably be affected.
I also want to take this opportunity to pay my tribute to the past services of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Both in war and in peace its men have given wonderful service over the years. They have proved an invaluable reserve for our Royal Air Force. I read that His Royal Highness Prince Philip paid tribute to this force yesterday, at the disbandment of 601 Squadron, and I am sure that the Committee would wish to be associated with the thanks extended upon that occasion to the men who have given such remarkable service.
In recent days, together with some of my colleagues in the House, I have met members of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, who have put to us their case for retention, and we have studied that case very carefully. I am sure that those hon. Members opposite who are concerned about the future of these men have also given great consideration to their points of view. But the more thought that I have given the matter the more I have been driven to the conclusion—reluctantly—that there is no future for the Royal Auxiliary Air Force in its present rôle. My only hope is that the men can be embodied in other parts of the Service, so continuing their usefulness.
Over the years, these men have shown wonderful spirit and enthusiasm, and 560 those qualities must be retained and nurtured if the R.A.F. of the future is to hold its front place in the forces of the world. As the need for pilots lessens so will the attraction of the Service, at least for some men. One of the Secretary of State's problems, therefore, will lie in the psychology of recruiting. The thrills of the new, and possibly press-button, Royal Air Force will be of a different nature, but the new world will still call for officers and men of the highest calibre.
The Secretary of State's main problem will be to reconcile the traditions, spirit, esprit de corps and enthusiasm of the old Royal Air Force as we know it with the new, streamlined. Service-to-be. It must be done. The problem of future recruiting lies in the success with which we can put this fact over. Special thought, care and display must be given to our future recruiting policy. We must capture the imagination of those whom we seek to attract to the Service. It is essential that we obtain the best type of young recruit, and if we are to be successful in this we must assure him that he will have an interesting life, real opportunity and, above all, security in his job. All these points must be put over with great thoughtfulness in our recruiting campaign.
The future success of the new Royal Air Force must depend largely upon recruiting. The Secretary of State must make it clear that with the reshaping and streamlining of the Service will come greater security and real promotion possibilities. Our new Service must be efficient and alert. Though we all hope and pray that it will never be needed for war, its very efficiency and potential will be our greatest bulwark for peace.
§ 4.49 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rankin (Glasgow, Govan)
The hon. and gallant Member for Wembley, North (Wing-Commander Bullus), who has spoken so eloquently about the need for the Royal Air Force, said that he hoped that it would never be required for war, and that is a hope in which I am sure we should all join. What, then, will it be needed for? Will it be a show-piece or a deterrent? The hon. and gallant Member believes that it will be a deterrent.
This point of view reminds me of an exhibit which is now in the British Museum. It is the first muzzle-loading 561 rifle. When that rifle was made it was then said that man had a weapon which was so deadly in its purpose and effect that never again would he dare to go to war. That was something like 300 years ago. The weapon has now become a museum piece and that inscription is below it. Exactly the same argument applies to the deterrent of today. Man has never yet feared any weapon that he ever made. In due course, when he becomes sufficiently familiar with it, the weapon will be used, if and when occasion demands its use. The only purpose in the deterrent is that it should be held in the hands of a very small number of nations, otherwise it will not be a deterrent.
If we imagined, for instance, a deterrent bomb which could be carried by some of the machines in the hands of, say, Egypt and Israel at the present moment, is one to suppose that that would help the peace of the world? There is a great danger that if the deterrent, instead of being held, as it is now, exclusively in the hands of few nations, were held widely, then instead of being a means of keeping people at peace it would be a means of encouraging war. So I suggest that when we place our hopes of peace on the machine of war we will be disappointed once again, as we have been so often disappointed in the past.
That is the reason we have always to think of alternative policies. I know, of course, that these things are not appropriate to our discussion today, but I say that instead of thinking in terms of getting more and more of what we call the deterrent, and making it more and more powerful and more and more able to deliver its fatal message quickly and remorselessly, we should be thinking in terms of coming to an accommodation with those other nations of the world which are in competition with us in these same dreadful experiments.
§ Wing Commander Bullus
That does not absolve the present Government from taking the necessary steps to use these deterrents until negotiations with other nations are satisfactorily concluded.
§ Mr. Rankin
These, I agree, are the difficulties of the occasion; the dilemmas that present themselves to us. In the 562 world in which we are living a certain state of readiness is something which no Government can ignore. How far do we go? Is there a level at which we stop? That is the reason, from my point of view, it is so important that we should be continually prosecuting the methods of peace and talking about them on all possible occasions.
Here we are dealing with a Vote on Account. We are preparing to spend £240 million. That is just part of the expenditure on this section of our defence. How much is still to come? That is quite a reasonable question to put. How much is to be added to that total of £240 million? Of course, one of the expenditures that has to be faced concerns the developments about which the hon. and gallant Member was speaking. If we are to have, under the arrangement—I hope "arrangement" is not too hard a word—but on the understanding that has been come to between the Minister of Defence and the American Government, American rocket missiles here, then rocket missile bases must be placed somewhere in this country. If rocket missile bases are to be in this country that will provoke some public agitation, and it has already done so in one part of Scotland, because people are not very keen on having these bases too near to where they live.
It may be said, "Some of the air bases which are already American manned are on the outskirts of towns and if we can have air bases there, why not rocket missile bases? There is not much difference." To my mind there is a very important difference. The time element enters into it. Where only the air base is concerned there will be more time between the outbreak of war and the chance of getting away, but where the rocket missile base is concerned we are going to be out before we are in. That is what will happen, and, in my view, that is why people are agitated about this matter today. We know that protests are being made in a part of Scotland, and I am glad to see that my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) is with us, because he will have some information to give us which, I think, has not been put very clearly in the Press to date. Nevertheless, I am sure that he will not mind if I put one or two questions about what is happening in South Uist.
563 There is much doubt about what is taking place, but the Air Ministry has had two officials there and, therefore, the Minister should be able to tell us more accurately perhaps than has so far been reported in the Press exactly what he wants. At first we were informed that he wanted only 200 acres of land. Now it appears that he wants 2,000 acres. In the early stages we were told that only a small number of people would be dispossessed and that only a small amount of arable land was to be taken over. Now it appears that all these demands have expanded remarkably with the result that they have provoked the people of South Uist to very serious complaint. These are matters about which we should be informed. I hope that we shall have a statement from the Government.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) referred to one or two matters which have been raised in the House during the past few months. I raised some of them myself. During the period when I was visiting the 2nd Tactical Air Force I was able to discuss these matters with the men there. My hon. Friend asked about raincoats. To many of us that is a small thing, but the men we are taking into the Air Force do not regard it as a trivial matter. The cost of the coat is £5. I do not suppose that they object to spending £5 on the coat. If they want it they must spend £5 to get it. It seems to me an anomaly that we should conscript young men into the Services, and then, if they want a raincoat to protect them against the rain, we say, "You will get it, if you pay for it." They get a greatcoat to protect them against the cold and I know that they can use a groundsheet to save them from the effects of the rain. But groundsheets are not things which young men wish to wear. They want a raincoat, and they can have one for £5.
Their objection is that they have no choice over the style of coat and, because they do not like its cut and pattern, they will have none of it. This is a trivial dissatisfaction, but we should do our best to remove it. Despite the fact that I have raised the matter on two or three occasions in the House, nothing has been done about it. I hope that is not the reason why nothing has been done.
I discussed with the men the question of pay. My hon. Friend said that in 564 view of the fact that we are taking these lads into the Services from industry, there should be an attempt made to give them conditions as near as possible to the conditions from which they have been taken. One of the regular features of industrial life is weekly pay; but when they get into the Air Force these airmen are paid fortnightly. At the stations in Western Germany which we visited I found that to be a sore point with men. I considered it my duty to speak to the Minister about it. I asked a Question in the House and received an unsatisfactory Answer. There is, of course, nothing unusual about that, but just before this debate I received a letter from the Minister.
He told me that he had decided to ask for a further examination of the systemwhereby airmen in overseas Commands are paid fortnightly and not weekly as in the United Kingdom.Well, at least that was helpful. The Minister said that he had received a report, and the letter went on:The overseas Commands whom we consulted have no very strong feelings on the matter, but we feel that on the whole it would be desirable to introduce a system of weekly pay.So the feeling is in support of the view I put forward. The letter continues:We are however shortly transferring the overseas Commands from a centralised to a decentralised system of accounting and this together with the absence of any strong feelings in the matter and the obvious necessity that we should ensure that this change will not involve any increase in manpower at a time when the pressure is all in the other direction, has led us to conclude that we should defer a decision for some time.When it would seem that the argument lies in favour of introducing weekly pay, why should the Minister hesitate, and say that he proposes to defer a decision on the ground that it might mean bringing in a few more people on the accountancy side? Would the carrying out of this little reform be so costly? Would it send up the total strength of the Air Force so much as to offset, even in a small way, the decrease which has been effected in the Estimates before us? I do not think so. I hope that the Minister will think about this again and see whether this small reform cannot be introduced right away.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me an insight into the educational work that goes on in the Royal Air Force 565 and I am sorry that I have not had time to read both of the pamphlets which I have received. I gather from the one dealing with technical cadetships that now we are on the way to the establishment of an engineering branch in the Air Force. I am interested to hear that, because in the Report on military aircraft, the latest we have, Sir Roy Fedden asks that such a branch should be created. I gathered from the interjection of the Minister that such a branch is now in operation.
§ Mr. Rankin
I take it that we have a branch which does all the work that an engineering branch can do.
Sir Roy Fedden suggests that it should be introduced in order that there may be the technical ability in the Royal Air Force which would help to overcome the appalling waste in the production of military aircraft which has gone on over the last few years. I will not quote from the Report, because hon. Members are familiar with it, but millions of pounds have been wasted on machines that failed in their purpose when they came into the possession of the Royal Air Force. One of the possible reasons was that the Royal Air Force, or so it was alleged, did not have the staff to see that the aircraft met the necessary requirements before it was too late.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
Surely the hon. Gentleman will understand and appreciate that when an aircraft is taken into this Service not only is the Royal Air Force capable of servicing it, but frequently it carries out exhaustive modifications of the aircraft in order to put it to the best possible service. The record of the R.A.F. in putting into service aircraft which had been damaged during the war should prove conclusively to the hon. Gentleman that it has a technical service of a very high standard.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am not seeking to cast any reflection on the Royal Air Force as such. The Committee whose Report I have referred to says:… the military aircraft programme was overloaded at the start: too much was attempted with the result that less has been achieved than might have been expected;… the trouble with the supply of military aircraft has been that too many types serving the same purpose have been put into production.566 And so on. That condemnation goes on throughout the Report.
We were pouring millions of public money into that effort and were failing to get the goods. At the same time, the companies engaged in the work were able to pay big dividends and issue bonus shares out of good profits. There is something wrong there that has to be guarded against. I am hoping, now that the R.A.F. is producing its own engineers, as indicated by these pamphlets, to look after this aspect of the work—the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) may smile at that, but that is the statement in the Report—that rather than put general duty officers on as aircraft controllers, the R.A.F. will look for men from its own ranks with technical or engineering qualifications. Changes in these appointments should not be made so frequently as they have been made in the past.
I have referred to the creation of bases in this country and the taking over of parts of the country as rocket ranges. Of course, we are tied to America in that policy. When the Minister of Defence was returning home he said, just before he left America, that the agreement that had been come to was like an iceberg. There was far more beneath the surface than could be seen on the top. The agreement ties us in a way about which most of us know very little, although we have been speculating. It may be manifesting itself in this enormous expenditure which is now before the Committee.
The Minister made an enigmatic statement, because seven-eighths of an iceberg are below the surface and only one-eighth is above. That is the reason the pattern of defence is changing. We know very little about what lies behind the agreement or how much we are committed by it, but we shall experience very seriously its repercussions on our daily lives. If the pattern of defence is changing then the pattern of life will also change, because great numbers of our people are engaged in the production of defence weapons. We ought to have more information about these things, in view of the vast sums of money which are involved and because the pattern of defence is altering and, consequently, the pattern of living.
Adjacent to my Division is the Rolls-Royce factory, employing 7,000 people. 567 It has been producing areo engines which are famous all over the world. Already in the minds of many of the workers in that great factory is the fear that because the pattern of defence is being altered the pattern of their employment will alter too. They fear that the aero engine will not be needed so much, and that the rocket missile will ultimately take the place of the military aircraft. The people in South Uist are worried about it and so are the people in Govan.
I hope that before the day finishes we shall have some assurance about what this alteration in the methods of defence will mean for our men and women, when it is translated into terms of living.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Air Commodore A. V. Harvey (Macclesfield)
We have listened to the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin) with considerable interest. He would not expect me to get involved in matters relating to Scotland.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I would not venture to do so, except to say that if we are to have missile batteries Scotland must have its fair share of them, compared with the rest of Great Britain. That is a matter for Scottish Members to iron out with the people there and with the Minister.
§ Mr. Rankin
I am not quarrelling about it. I did not complain. We have complained in Scotland about losing projects, and I have complained about losing the maintenance base at Renfrew and the R.A.F. factor at Dalmuir. We cannot therefore complain if we are getting something in the way of a new project.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
That is quite all right, then. The hon. Gentleman was concerned about the Rolls-Royce factory near his constituency, and I imagine that that is acceptable. That is also involved in this armaments business. The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. I hope that he sees the point.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about clothing. If we are to attract recruits we must be generous in dealing with clothing and give them smart, well-cut uniforms and raincoats.
The hon. Gentleman was wrong in his reference to the technical branch of the 568 R.A.F. The technical branch is being enlarged and improved. I remember officers going on a one-year engineering course some thirty years ago and some of them eventually took a post-graduate course at Cambridge. There has always been a technical branch, but it has never been strong enough. It is necessary for the R.A.F. to have a strong technical branch, composed largely of engineering officers.
We have reached the cross-roads in matters relating to defence. It is most difficult to debate this matter today when we are told so little. I do not blame my right hon. Friend for the lack of information. The White Paper is not yet published. In view of the developments that have taken place from the visit of the Minister of Defence to the United States it will be far better for us to wait for a few extra weeks so as to have what we hope will be a worth-while White Paper. We can then deal with the Service Estimates again in a defence debate. Today we are merely expressing our thoughts, thinking aloud, giving advice for what it is worth, and offering criticism.
The future pattern, while not clear, does show that drastic alterations have got to take place in all three Services. Since the time when I came into Parliament at the end of the war, in 1945, successive Governments have blown hot and cold about all matters relating to defence. For example, immediately after the war the Labour Government did nothing about carrying out development work for supersonic aircraft—abandoned it, in fact. Today we are footing the bill for the lack of development in supersonic aircraft at the end of the war.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Member says "No," but it is a fact. It is all on record that it was abandoned, probably on the advice of Sir Ben Lockspeiser. No development was done.
§ Mr. Beswick
It is on the record, but I think it right to say that the record is wrong in that particular. What was said by the Minister of Defence in the debate a week or two ago was not the full truth. What happened was not that all research on supersonic machines was given up. The decision was made that 569 it was not right to risk the lives of pilots and the consequence was that the research was done with unmanned aircraft. Therefore, it is not true to say that supersonic research was given up. There was a decision based on considerations which I should have thought the hon. and gallant Member would have appreciated.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I recall that models were used to some extent, but I do not know to what extent. The fact is that the Labour Government may have thought they were saving lives, but that decision may have cost lives in the long run, not only to the Service but to the country as a whole. Also, at the time of Korea the Labour Government lost their heads completely. They placed orders in every conceivable factory in Britain for aircraft and equipment. I well remember the number of Canberras that were ordered. That was a very fine aircraft, but when my right hon. Friends took over control in 1951 one of the first things that happened under the present Minister of Defence, who was then Minister of Supply, was the cancellation of a large number of Canberra aircraft. As soon as Korea came upon us the Labour Government ordered far too much equipment on which sufficient development work had not taken place.
I want to refer to the Suez operation—I do not want to try to hold an inquest—and the part which the Royal Air Force played there. I think that it was a very creditable part. The flying of the pilots was first-class and could not have been better. My criticism is that not enough aircraft were available to do the job. It should have been far more of an air operation that it was. I know that the experts will say that we must have heavy armour transported in ships.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I am not going into that question—apparently it was thought that it might be wanted against the Russians, not the Egyptians. Had the Americans been carrying out the operation instead of us—I think probably they should have been—they would have had a great many Globemasters and similar aircraft, and the air operation would have been far more effective.
570 Here I come to the question of Transport Command. That has been negelected; it has been the Cinderella of the Air Force for many years. Except for a few Beverleys we have no large aircraft, and there was the very unfortunate accident to one of them on Tuesday. We hope that that will not affect development of that aeroplane as a type. It is slow, and has a fixed undercarriage. The Bregnet Company in France had a similar aircraft flying on the Berlin airlift which was 70 m.p.h. or 80 m.p.h. faster.
I criticise both Labour and Conservative Governments for the lack of interest shown in developing a proper Transport Command. It really has been a mixed bag. In 1948 and 1949 the Labour Government, during an economy campaign, actually cancelled orders for transport aircraft. When the Korean war came orders were once again given to factories and aircraft were built. Continual ups and downs are not the way to create confidence in the Air Force or in the industry. I remember Mr. John Lord, who is now dead, saying, "Let them in and get them out". That is what the workers thought in the Manchester area.
Since the war we have had the Valettas doing a useful job in Transport Command. We know the sad story of the Tudors and we had the Hastings, which are now ten years old. We have had twelve Comets passed on by B.O.A.C.—it is only by a fluke that they are there. I have referred to the Beverleys; and 16 Britannias are going to the Royal Air Force. I hope that the Under-Secretary will tell us a little more about those Britannias. Are they standard Britannias? Are they to be used for different rôles, for short or long-range work? Can we see some real planning done to co-ordinate the future of Transport Command?
Transport Command does not serve the Royal Air Force alone. First, it serves the nation and the other Services. With more and more scientists coming into our defence I should almost like to see it as an independent command, run on similar lines to the United States Transport Command. This question has to be tackled. Britain cannot go into operations, even small operations known as "fire brigade" operations, unless we can 571 use aircraft, and those can only be provided by Transport Command.
We have seen that men have been moved to the Mediterranean in Shackle-tons, sitting on tool boxes and canvas seats. That is all right once in a while, but it ought not to be a long-term policy. Air Transport is a vital element in all military power and it affects all the Services. We want to get as much utilisation out of the aircraft as we can. I do not think that there is enough flying done. I wonder what the hours per annum would prove to be for each transport aircraft if the figures were published. I think that they would be found to be most uneconomical.
Our fighters have many advantages. Often we do not make enough of our fighters. We are told that the guns do not fire, and we hear all the bad things about them, but I believe the Hunter has "got it" on many foreign fighters so far as altitude is concerned. It may not be so fast, but a fast fighter is no use today unless it can fly at a considerable height and be effective.
Coming to the wider aspect of defence, as I see it the Americans, the Russians and ourselves are to possess the deterrent. We recognise that, although some of us may not agree, but I do not think that the deterrent will necessarily be used. An hon. Member has spoken about the muzzle-loading rifle of three hundred years ago, but he forgot the case of gas. We do not want to draw too much comfort from the fact that gas was not used in the last war. Nevertheless, it was not used, and I do not think the deterrent will be used. We all pray that it will not be used.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I think it would have been very uncomfortable for many people had it been used. Precautions were taken against its use.
If the deterrent were used it would mean mutual annihilation, and no one would get anything out of it. Therefore it is reasonable to suppose that the size of the deterrent force will be on a small scale. As the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) said, we should not need so many bombers. That is obvious 572 because the weapon is so much greater in power. This country could be absolutely devastated and brought to its knees by five or six of these weapons. Let us recognise—it is well known—that no defence force can possibly achieve 100 per cent. interception and destruction of enemy bombers.
However, if we rule out attack by nuclear weapons—for argument's sake I wish to do so—we still have the possibility of attack by conventional weapons. This is what worries me about Soviet Russia. We may come to some form of agreement with Russia about nuclear weapons, but what about Russia's conventional weapons? She is supposed to have thousands of aircraft and 500 or 600 submarines. That is a terrifying factor when we are thinking of the future, I hope that the Government will not ignore that aspect and will not concentrate too much on the press-button warfare outlook, no matter how quickly such a form of warfare may develop.
I believe that fighter defence is still necessary. If we can achieve 85 or 90 per cent. of interceptions, that will be a tremendous help, at all events, in protecting vital areas, airfields, and batteries of missiles.
What is required today is broad thinking on the highest intellectual plane in regard to all these matters to ensure that not a penny of the taxpayers' money is wasted and to ensure that we get the greatest co-ordination possible with our allies and friends. I am sometimes appalled at the amount of effort in this country and France—the French are doing extremely well in the designing of their aircraft—going into the duplicating of each other's equipment in the air and on the ground. Many items in aircraft could be standardised among the Western Powers. Is anything being done in that direction? Radio equipment could be standardised for aircraft and also for tanks and armoured vehicles.
One thing which the Air Ministry must do, as the other Services must do, for efficiency as well as economy, is to reduce the numbers of civilians and serving officers on its staff. There is undoubtedly a "bulge". In the Royal Air Force somewhere between pilot officer and air vice-marshal there is a great surplus of officers. We do not want these men 573 thrown on the scrap heap when a decision is made. That would give the Service a bad name and be bad for recruiting. I urge my right hon. Friend and the Cabinet to do everything possible to ensure that the Treasury treats these men fairly if an "axe" is applied. We do not want a repetition of what happened in the case of the Royal Navy twenty or thirty years ago.
On 1st February, 1957, there were at the Air Ministry 1,189 officers and 6,968 civilians. In 1951 there were 1,045 officers and 6,356 civilians. I cannot see why these figures should be so large. Nor can I see why the overall figures should be so great. To take the numbers of officers of the rank of group captain and above, in March, 1939, there were 260 and in March, 1956, there were 879. As to the numbers of general duties officers, in 1939 there were 213 and today there are 471. I am sure that we have fewer aircraft today than in 1939. I know that present aircraft are more complicated and may require relatively more men on the ground and in the depots, but surely we do not need that number of officers to ensure that the aircraft get into the air.
I hope my right hon. Friend will begin combing from the top. If we are to have economies, we must start at the top, for that is where "empires" begin to build up. I do not want to see an "axing" campaign which will wreck the Service, because in my view the Royal Air Force is the only Service which can adequately defend Britain. However, there are now eight or nine air chief marshals as there were six years ago, twenty air marshals compared with seventeen, seventy-five air vice-marshals compared with seventy, and 147 air commodores compared with 127. This matter is getting completely out of hand.
While no one wishes careers to be wrecked, I hope that my right hon. Friend will tackle this problem and deal generously with those concerned. The more staff officers we have, the more appreciations and minutes are written, the more confusing it then is when one have to make a decision about what to do. It would be far better to clean things up and to reduce the size of staffs throughout the Service.
My right hon. Friend referred to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. I take issue with him on that subject. I agree with 574 him that the force probably cannot continue in its present rôle, but I would point out that it is a very clever man who can say what is to happen more than three years ahead. I should have found the officers concerned something to do in the interim and would have kept their town headquarters going. However, they have been scrapped. I detested tremendously the way in which it was done. After the force had existed for thirty years, it got a signal to say that flying was to cease forthwith. Could not the squadron commanders have been asked by the Secretary of State for Air to come to London, taken out to lunch, and told in a pleasant way?
The Royal Auxiliary Air Force squadrons—I am not exaggerating—probably saved Britain in 1940. Reference has been made in many books written by retired officers and other authoritative persons to the great help which they gave. They have had the most shabby treatment that I have ever seen served out to anybody. I do not blame my right hon. Friend, because the decision was taken before he went to the Air Ministry, but I wish he had been there a few months earlier so that the matter could have been dealt with in a tidy manner. The decision has probably been taken because the Royal Air Force will find itself with a surplus of pilots. Perhaps it is easier to unload those in the Royal Auxiliary Air Force and to use regulars. That is a short cut, and it is probably not the right answer in the long run.
Looking forward. I suggest that my right hon. Friend will have a very difficult task to persuade parents to encourage their children to join the Royal Air Force or any other Service. That is not for the reasons which the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) thinks; I know what is in his mind. It is because parents today are very suspicious about push-button warfare and are worried about the careers that may be offered to their sons. I believe that what is wanted is security.
I believe that the three Services must work very closely together. I am very disappointed that we have heard so little about any form of integration of the three Services. One does not expect it to happen overnight, but I should have thought there was an argument for a common 575 cadet college and a common medical service. We have to start somewhere, and the sooner the better.
The enemy of Britain is air power, and if we have to make cuts—I am not saying this because I am biassed—they should come in the main from the Army and the Royal Navy, excluding the Fleet Air Arm. We ought not to be hesitant about putting that point of view forward. The Royal Air Force should be allowed to continue, with the great traditions which it has acquired in a comparatively short space of time, to protect these islands. We should not be weak in voting money to it, provided that we ensure that the right equipment and the best men are secured for it.
§ 5.39 p.m.
§ Group Captain C. A. B. Wilcock (Derby, North)
First, I should like to welcome the Secretary of State and his hon. Friend in their present offices. I cannot pay them any higher compliment than to say that they served in the Royal Air Force and that we are always sure that whatever they do is done in the belief that they are doing right by the Royal Air Force. Therefore, I think that tonight the Secretary of State should make some comment about future redundancy of officers in particular. Many hon. Members have touched on this subject, but I did not hear the Secretary of State even suggest that there would be any axing. It is a dreadful thing for serving officers to be living under such a threat. In the 'twenties and 'thirties the Royal Air Force lived under that threat. I know, because I was in the R.A.F. myself at the time.
I do not believe that today it will be necessary to make such economies as will cause the axing of officers, or of warrant officers and N.C.O.s of long service, and it would be as well if the Secretary of State would make some statement lest it should go out from this Committee that redundancy will start again in the Royal Air Force. If it does, from that moment morale will deteriorate.
The problem of Her Majesty's Government now is to retain an efficient and well-balanced Air Force within the framework of all the combined Services without bankrupting the nation. I have not heard very much mention of economics so far. I agree, as have all hon. Members, that 576 the pattern of war is changing. My only comment is that we always seem to be a little behind these changes. I personally believe that Fighter Command, as a Command, was doomed from the day the first rocket dropped in England. Bomber Command was doomed from the day the American Air Force had bases here. Therefore, it is for the Government and the Air Force to re-orientate their resources.
Obviously, we require conventional aircraft and supporting aircraft and forces for operations overseas. We do not require a bombing air force to carry hydrogen or atom bombs, nor do we require a Fighter Command to try to intercept the rockets which we could not intercept fifteen years ago. If we accept the thesis that Fighter Command exists to prevent destruction in this country, it has no rôle today. If we accept that Bomber Command exists to take a hydrogen or an atom bomb somewhere, we do not need it. What we do need, as the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) has said, is a big powerful and efficient Transport Command. I speak as one of the original members of that Command, which, of course, finished as the largest Command of all.
From the moment that it was decided to form Transport Command the Royal Air Force benefited in ratio to that Command's efficiency. When supplies and personnel could be transported quickly, the whole Air Force benefited. I know that the right hon. Gentleman realises its value. There has hardly been a serious international incident in the last twelve years which has not called for assistance from the air, and I do not think that there could be a better insurance, or a better way of using public money in the Royal Air Force than by having adequate transport aircraft at its disposal.
I had intended to say something on integration, but the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield has tidied that up very nicely. The time has come to take this matter seriously. I made this appeal here several years ago, when I said that, for instance, all the chaplains could be in one uniform, and all the dentists have one code of pay. The present position is quite ridiculous.
577 In the Royal Air Force we do not want doctors who call themselves wing-commanders and store accounting officers who call themselves squadron leaders. It is all rather nonsensical. I do not know who introduced all these various ranks; it was presumably done to get some sort of individuality. Since then, of course, the whole thing has run amok, and we have the stupid position today of unnecessary differences of rank, uniform and pay between the three Services. A start could be made there.
In the Admiralty there is an Intelligence staff for pretty well every country in the world, and in the Air Ministry the same applies. I dare say the same holds good in the Army. There are hundreds of officers concerning themselves with all these different countries and about what they would, or could, do if another war started. Surely there could be a combined Intelligence staff. Why have three separate establishments? Literally hundreds of officers are being misemployed—that is the only word for it.
This could be only the beginning of integration. The supply services could certainly be integrated. Moreover, integration would improve career prospects for all concerned in all three Services. There is no reason there should not be one common pay code throughout the three Armed Services, with, for example, special rates for submarine officers and pilots, and so on. If that were done we could probably dispense tomorrow with 20,000 people who now sit in offices and work out the pay and allowances of the different trades and appointments in the Royal Air Force and the other Services. However, I feel that I may be preaching to the converted, because the Secretary of State must know these things.
I should have liked to have discussed the general higher policy of the Royal Air Force, but we have nothing to start on—there is no White Paper. Are we to operate with N.A.T.O.? Are we trying to build up a little Air Force, Navy and Army and work on our own, or are we part of a big thing? That makes a great deal of difference. We could be efficient in one direction, particularly in the Royal Air Force, but we cannot be in all directions because we have not the money. Is 578 someone to decide what we are to do? We cannot do all we would like, but we will do a certain amount efficiently.
In this respect I should like to make one suggestion to the Minister of Defence, because it is rather outside the functions of the Secretary of State for Air. The Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation should not be divorced from the Royal Air Force. Airfields are airfields, whether they belong to the Service or to the Ministry of Civil Aviation. Viscounts are probably just as good as any kind of aircraft which the Royal Air Force has for transporting stores and personnel. In the event of hostilities we bring in the civil side. Let us bring it in a little closer in peace-time. I wonder whether the Minister of Defence should not have the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation under him. Air transport is very much part of the defence of this country; indeed it may be that in a future war we shall have to bring personnel from the Commonwealth and food from overseas by air to this country—and by air alone. I, therefore, believe that there should be a very much closer understanding between the Royal Air Force and the civil air operator.
I come now to recruiting for the Royal Air Force, assuming that we are still to have an air force. Incidentally, it proved itself quite efficient, irrespective of what the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield said—which I was very surprised to hear—about the Suez operation. Leaving aside for the moment my view of that operation as a most misguided one, I should be interested to know whether the Chiefs of Staff ever suggested that it was a military operation which as such could possibly be successful. I hope that, if they did, they have now been dismissed from their posts. However, what the Royal Air Force was called upon to do it did, and with its usual efficiency.
If we are to keep the Royal Air Force to its present state of efficiency in future, recruiting is, of course, the chief problem. May I, from my experience of the Service, which, after all, was very long both in the Army and the Royal Air Force, tell the Secretary of State, so that he can tell all his colleagues of whatever rank, from the top to the bottom, that the one thing which retards recruiting is overseas service? It is not pay or so much 579 conditions; it is the overseas tour which in peace time is not acceptable to most men, particularly the married man, or even the single man who contemplates marriage.
I see no reason the Royal Air Force cannot shorten the overseas tour to twelve months and do all its exchange of personnel by air. I have asked for this before. On one occasion I gave facts and figures of the expense of long tours overseas. I quoted the cost of putting up married quarters, for instance. We usually evacuate them a few years afterwards, or give them up to the Egyptians or someone else. We have to provide hospitals and schools overseas. It is not efficient, and it is efficiency we must look for. It is not economical, and it is economy we must have. If we said immediately that no one in the Royal Air Force, unless he so volunteered, would be called upon to serve overseas for more than twelve months, we should, in my view—and I do not think my judgment is wrong about this—have all the men we wanted. They know that the pay is right and the conditions are right.
Finally, I would suggest to the Secretary of State that a committee should be set up at the Air Ministry, or elsewhere, to go anew into the question of the manpower of the Royal Air Force and how it is used. I would suggest to the Secretary of State that he should use the services of Sir John Cordingley, who was Director of Manning for the Royal Air Force during the war, as the Secretary of State will know—a man of very great ability and integrity, with a knowledge which it is quite impossible to obtain except through holding such an appointment during war. Such a committee should be called upon to make recommendations immediately as to what civilianisation could be carried out in the Royal Air Force at home. The process of civilianisation is ridiculously slow. Indeed, I believe that there are only two flying units civilianised today, although the Secretary of State last year said that this was a policy which was accepted. If such a committee as I have mentioned were to make recommendations on this subject of civilianisation and the possibility of shortening the overseas tour to one year, then I believe that we should really be getting to grips with the problems of achieving economy without loss of efficiency.
§ 5.53 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
I am always glad to follow the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock), but I am particularly pleased to follow him on this occasion because I agree with so much of what he has said. His remarks about Transport Command in the Royal Air Force, were, I thought, particularly apposite. Ever since the war, that Command has been neglected by successive Governments, not only by this but by previous ones as well. The result is that we have now got ourselves into some difficulty, as was seen in the Suez operation.
One of the things which has always impressed me about the United States Air Force is the importance which it attaches to its transport command. The Americans have built up their transport command. It is not the Cinderella of their service, which was the word used by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) when he referred to ours. It has been developed into a remarkable organisation. It is used as a proving ground for the civilian air liners of the future in the United States. I certainly hope that the remarks made by the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North and those of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield will be borne in mind.
I agree, too, with the remarks of the hon. and gallant Gentleman about the integration of the Services. I am sure that much more should be done in the three Services to bring them more closely together. Now, the only thing we seem to get is a speech every year from Field Marshal Lord Montgomery recommending it, but it never seems to get very much further than that.
The hon. and gallant Gentleman referred to the Suez intervention. I take the view that that operation was a proper one, and well conducted; but whatever may be the feelings of hon. Gentlemen about it, and I do not want to go into them now, I firmly believe that the contribution of the Royal Air Force to that expedition was a remarkable one. When the story is told, it will be regarded generally, I think, as a brilliantly organised affair. The bombing of the airfields in the first two or three days of the campaign, though, I agree, there was no 581 effective opposition, was a most notable operation.
Since we last debated Air Force expenditure in the House, the controversy over the future of the Air Force, particularly in its relation to conventional weapons and missiles, has become much more intense. The speeches to which we have listened today confirm that impression. All sorts of views are being advanced, some authoritative and well balanced, and others, as my right hon. Friend said, ill-considered and harmful. Whatever may be said from the other side, I think that the speech which my right hon. Friend made this afternoon has done something to allay the fears which are arising out of this controversy. It is, indeed, most necessary that they should be put in perspective. I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North about that. But the controversy is there, and nothing will stop it until some broad policy is announced by the Government; and even then I believe that the controversy will continue.
I wish to refer to two authoritative statements which have recently been made. On the one hand, we have heard my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence speaking in the House on air defence on 13th February in the following terms:One course is to try … to provide fighter protection over the whole of the British Isles. However, I think it is difficult to reconcile this policy with the knowledge that it is virtually impossible to stop some bombers getting through and that with nuclear weapons these would be able to blot out large areas of country."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1957; Vol. 379, c. 1315.]On the other hand, on the very next day, 14th February, the Chief of the Air Staff, speaking at a luncheon in London, with all the authority which his position and, if I may say so, his intellect carries, said:There is a lot of loose talk at the moment that either tomorrow or this afternoon—I am not sure which—the whole of the Air Force business will be taken over by rockets, and that the Air Force will be out of business. That, of course, is terribly far from the truth.I am sure it is right that the country should have its collective mind projected towards the changes which must flow during the next two decades in the Royal Air Force. It is right that argument and discussion should be provoked. But 582 equally, it would be very harmful if those whose future careers lie in the Service—the potential recruits, the young officers and airmen, the cadets, and so on—were to gain or to be left with the impression that in five or ten years' time conventional aircraft would be out, and with them the men who fly and maintain them.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I agree absolutely with what the hon. Member is saying. Would he not, however, agree that the reason why it is impossible to discuss the next five or ten years is that we have had from the Secretary of State no statement about what is to succeed the V-bombers and whether even the P.1 fighter is to be introduced and what is to follow it? It is impossible for us in these circumstances to discuss anything. Therefore, the young potential fighter and bomber pilots must indeed wonder what their future is.
§ Mr. Lucas
I agree that it would be very helpful to us to have more information. I shall have more to say on the point raised by the hon. Member for Bristol. South-East (Mr. Benn).
I was saying that for those whose future careers lie in the Service to get the impression that in a matter of a few years conventional aircraft will be out, would be very harmful, because, as I shall try to show, I do not think that the end of the conventional aircraft is by any means in sight.
It must be apparent to anyone with eyes to see that before all these vast changes, which are being foreshadowed, can occur, a number of fairly awkward questions will have to be answered. Can we, for instance, be sure that guided weapons of one kind or another will be capable of dealing with a low-level attack upon these islands should it come? My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield referred to the conventional aircraft which Russia possesses in great numbers. Who knows that in the unfortunate event of an attack by Russia upon this country, such attacks would not be carried out at low level? Is the guided 583 missile the answer to that? Again, are we satisfied yet that we can overcome with missiles the use of saturation tactics by an enemy?
Much of our thinking about air defence today is based on the premise that an attack upon this country by conventional aircraft—which is, after all, what we have to deal with at the moment—would be carried out from a great height by aircraft operating singly and at great speed. If that was the case, no doubt guided weapons would ultimately prove an adequate and reliable defence against such a target, but what if an attack was conducted from an immense height by clusters of, say, 40 or more aircraft operating together, or at least in contact? It is questionable whether at this stage we have in the missile alone a reliable answer to such tactics.
These and other considerations, which I cannot go into now, lead me to the conclusion that the changeover to guided weapons of one form or another will neither be swift nor yet will it be absolute. That is my view. It will, I think, be a gradual process, with the missile being integrated by degrees into the conventional defences of Fighter Command. And when the guided weapon has taken over certain aircraft responsibilities there will still be many vital rôles and uses for which conventional aircraft will still have to be provided.
If such thinking is reasonably correct —and I do not think that it is far from the truth—I foresee employment for pilots, aircrews and maintenance staffs in the operational commands of the Royal Air Force for fifteen or twenty years ahead, and it may well be that that period will be much longer.
One thing, however, is important, and perhaps my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be prepared to say a word about this when he replies to the debate. Everyone appreciates the need for a reasonable degree of security in the various stages of guided weapon development. I do not feel that any hon. Member would dispute the necessity for that. It seems to me, however, that we have now reached the point when we are being unnecessarily cautious.
I believe that the Government could afford now to say just a little bit more 584 without harming either the national effort or, indeed, their own position. Perhaps when the policy decisions have been taken, as they will have to be shortly, we shall be given more enlightenment. It is, of course, the custom, when hon. Members sit on the other side of the Committee, to accuse the Government of not saying enough. Perhaps it is not so much the custom to say it on this side, but, nevertheless, I do so tonight for I believe it to be justified.
What seems to me to be most necessary is that there should be increasing opportunities for discussion, argument and consultation both in the industry and in the Service, and particularly between the two—between user and manufacturer—about the many problems which integration and the development of guided weapons present. Particularly is it important that those whose responsibility it will be to introduce and operate these weapons in the Service should have greater freedom than, I feel, they have at the moment to confer among themselves. Conferences and discussions may still be at too high a level. Certainly, that was the case. Therefore, I say that consideration should be given to easing still further the security even within the Service in the Departmental discussions upon these particular weapons.
Because I take the view that we shall need trained pilots in the Air Force for a good many years to come, I was particularly interested to hear my right hon. Friend's remarks this afternoon concerning ab initio jet training aircraft for the Service. It is quite clear from what my right hon. Friend said—and he said much the same thing in answer to a Question of mine the other day—that the Air Staff have given a great deal of thought to this matter. In fact, I believe, they have been thinking about it since September, 1955, and it is now, apparently, clear to them that it must be increasingly to the pure jet rather than to the piston-engined aircraft that the Service should look for its initial training aircraft.
Although this represents a considerable change in policy, there can be few hon. Members who would doubt that this decision is the right one, and fewer still who would say that there was any practical alternative to the selection of the Jet Provost for this job. The production 585 order for this aircraft, after the basic decision had been taken was, to all intents and purposes, inevitable and I consider it to have been quite proper.
Having said that, however, I must now ask my right hon. Friend not to disregard, even at this late stage, the possibility of the Miles M.100, not only in the form which will soon fly, but also in the projected Mark III version, which is very much in mind. This aircraft, I understand, is expected to fly next month—I am given 20th April as the target date. Quite apart from the fact that it is a private venture, privately financed and, therefore, demanding of support, it comes, after all, from a stable which designed and developed about 7,000 training aircraft between 1938 and 1946, in addition to some of the best light aircraft which the country has ever known.
Because the M.100—the Student, as, I understand, it is to be called—is a product of the design genius of Miles, it would be very unfortunate if the potentialities of this aircraft were disregarded now merely because the production order has already been placed for one type of jet training aircraft.
This is a moment, I agree, when new projects must be reduced to the minimum. It is quite clear, though we cannot go over that now, that that must be the intention. Equally, it is a time when economy in defence is paramount. On this latter basis, I should have thought that the M.100 would merit detailed evaluation by the Service, after all the prototype flying has been completed. From the standpoint of capital cost, and maintenance and operating costs, the contention is, and I have not seen it refuted, that this aircraft offers economies approximating 50 per cent. of the comparable costs of its counterpart, the Jet Provost.
I remember the arguments that we had in the past on the light fighter, the Folland Gnat. I said at the time that I did not think we should have been wise to develop that aircraft, but I freely confess that I am not at all sure now that we should not have done so. One has to consider that experience when dealing with this project. When we add to the potential economies the obvious development stretch which the M.100 will offer—it was designed as a pure jet not as a piston-engined aircraft like the Provost—I should have thought that there was a good deal to commend it from an Air Force point of view.
586 I apologise for dealing with this matter at length, but I feel strongly about it. To say all this about the Miles venture is in no way to denigrate the aircraft which has been selected for the first production order. I have a very high regard for the firm which is producing that aircraft, as I have indeed for the man who is responsible for the central direction of that company's affairs. I do not seek for a moment to belittle the virtues of the Jet Provost. It has been subjected to searching Service trials. It has proved itself, and it is quite right, in my opinion, that the firm should have obtained the contract.
I must say, however, that modern experience has taught us that in the ordering of aircraft risks are involved in going in for one aircraft to the exclusion of all else. It can be dangerous in these days to put all your eggs into the same basket. I must say, finally, to the Committee that my only interest in the M.100, which I have seen at Shoreham, and which I have followed closely through its various stages of construction, is that it should get a fair crack of the whip from the R.A.F. That is all I ask. I am sure that its design merits it. I hope, therefore, that we shall have an assurance tonight that, after the prototype flying has been completed, the Ministry of Supply and the Air Ministry together will arrange for a proper evaluation to be made of this aircraft.
§ 6.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Malcolm MacMillan (Western Isles)
The hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) suggested that it would do no harm to have a certain amount of argument and discussion on future policy. I have had enough argument and discussion in my constituency in the last few days to last me a lifetime. I intend to narrow down what I have to say to Government policy on guided missiles, particularly in relation to the establishment of rocket ranges in the United Kingdom.
I mean, in turn, to narrow it down further to the proposed establishment of a guided missiles range in the Western Isles, with its associated radar and other installations throughout the whole of the Outer Islands, from Lewis in the north to Barra in the south, because the interests of all the islands are involved and not only those of South Uist and 587 Benbecula. That is an important point which has been lost sight of in local argument and in the Press. All the Outer Islands are affected in some way, just as the islands on which the main range is to be constructed.
It should not be necessary to say this in this Committee, but even after all these years it is necessary to make it clear to some critics outside that I am speaking for myself and for my constituents, and certainly not as a spokesman, however indirect, of the Ministry of Defence or the Air Ministry. I do not agree with many of their views, nor have I been asked to modify mine. Neither would I have consented to modify my views, had such a request been made. In criticism of my attitude towards this project, it has been suggested that I have been briefed as a spokesman of the Government, but I have not.
I cannot conscientiously say that I believe for one minute that a rocket range will help the Western Isles, nor do I genuinely believe that it will help the British Isles if war should come. It will upset very greatly an ancient and valued way of life in the Western Isles, which even the abandonment of the range later would not enable us to restore. As a Western Islander myself I strongly deplore and resent this intrusion and assault, however necessary it may appear to be. I regard the missiles programme in itself as a useless expense, and I regret that the money which it uses could not have been applied to many projects of local, constructive development for which we have been pleading for many years with so little success.
I do not believe, any more than the Minister of Defence appeared to believe from his statement the other day, that guided missiles from these ranges will defend or protect us in time of war. The schoolboy who, with startling perspicacity, declared that "peace is invisible" could now extend his dictum to say that modern war is invisible, inaudible, instantaneous and total. I do not think that anyone has proved, or will prove, that guided missiles will be the answer to a supersonic attack, delivered from a great height, 5,000 miles away, which was the picture painted for us rather gloomily by the Minister of Defence the other day.
588 One has to recognise, nevertheless, that the Government have their responsibility for what they believe will be the defence of the country if war should come. Therefore, I am very conscious of the fact that the Government have taken what they regard as an irrevocable decision on this matter. Whether the decision was right or wrong is another question; but I have been told repeatedly that they are committed to this project as a matter of strategic and defence necessity and that they will not yield in their determination to go ahead with the establishment of the guided missiles range in the Western Isles.
Therefore, within the context of that decision, and one's obligation constitutionally to accept the decision, however reluctantly, I think that it is our duty in the constituency, and in the House of Commons, to press the Government as much as we can to try to mitigate the impact of this intrusion, this assault upon the area and upon the way of life and economy of the Western Isles. That is a duty that falls upon all of us, and particularly upon the Government, and the Minister who have taken this decision and will not depart from it. for reasons which to them, at least, are perfectly sound and may, in fact, be sound.
What is the Western Isles local opinion on this matter, since it counts very much? Only the other day I heard the Western Isles described as "a potential second Cyprus". That, perhaps, arose from other associations in the opposition to the projected guided missiles scheme. The opposition has largely been led by a popular and respected local priest who has managed to escape the Seychelles perhaps because the Government imagine, like good Sassenachs, that the Western Isles are equally far away and inaccessible. Unfortunately, at the moment, they are not quite so inaccessible to the Government as are the Seychelles.
I would like to remind the Minister of the views of the islanders on this scheme. I do not think that they made unreasonable demands when they asked, originally, to be informed and to be consulted continuously, not just from time to time after irrevocable decisions had been taken. They called a meeting in 1955 and considered a resolution which was carried unanimously by the crofters, 589 school teachers, doctors and all the others who attended, to this effect:That this meeting, while it has no desire to obstruct any measures necessary for national defence, expresses its deep concern at the threat from the Government's guided missile and training ground project in South Uist to the way of life of our people, to the very character of the local population"—That was a reference to the influx of upward of 4,000 people from the mainland—and to the security of tenure of many crofters in their land and homes"—These are perhaps the main points that remain to this moment the basic local objection and matter for local inquiry. The meeting deploredthe lack of full consultation with the South Uist people, particularly with regard to the proposed requisition of their land.This, perhaps, is where the Scottish Office comes in rather than the Air Ministry, and, therefore, on this occasion I will not start to measure the problem out in chains and furlongs and acres and all the rest of it. I expect the Under-Secretary of State, if given an opportunity later, to be able to say a few words on that aspect of the impact of this project upon the crofting and agricultural economy of the islands.
One question was asked which has never been answered fully, though Air Commodore Levis said something about it in Inverness a few weeks ago. It was felt that the Government should disclose what other sites in uninhabited islands and mainland areas were considered as possible sites for the ranges, and the reasons for their rejection. It would have given a considerable amount of satisfaction if it were known that this area was not simply singled out on a whim of the Minister or of his advisers.
It would have helped if it had been known that other areas as well had been examined, and that this was no discrimination and did not merely reflect an attitude of "couldn't care less", or "it happens to be at the back of beyond", and so on. If the Ministry had gone out of its way, as I asked it to do at different times, to state what other sites had been examined, and why they were rejected, it would have helped. After all, so much publicity was given to the site which was chosen that it could not have mattered, in security terms, if we talked for a month about those which were rejected.
590 A number of other things were asked for by the people at that time. One of those was a demand, which is still being presented, that there should be the fullest consultation locally, that is to say, in the islands and with the people directly affected, and that the agricultural, fishing and other local interests on the spot should be given an opportunity of being heard, not only through their county council, which is in Inverness on the other side of Scotland, but in the area directly affected, and which only the local people could know intimately and well.
On the Order Paper of this House a Motion was set down on the same subject. Again, it recognised the needs of national defence and the obligations of the Minister of Defence and of the Air Ministry. It asked that a local public inquiry to hear objections should be made possible for the local people once the surveys were completed and the plans drawn up. That was signed by most of my hon. Friends in the Scottish Parliamentary Labour Party, except those holding a pacifist view or having special reasons for not associating themselves with it.
We were given an understanding by the Secretary of State for Scotland, speaking also for the Secretary of State for Air, that there would be full consultation with all the interests concerned, and opportunity for the lodging and consideration of objections. There was nothing exclusive about that undertaking and that promise, and I imagine that under it the Ministry could have approached the local crofters and others affected individually. There are not so many of them. I am glad to say that the figure is a lot smaller than has sometimes been stated in the Press.
I believe that it would have been wise for the Ministry and for the Scottish Office to have sent out senior, responsible officials who could speak with authority to the individual crofters. There would have been no loss of dignity for senior officials or a Minister to go there and to see these people in order to overcome reasonably, where that was possible, some, at least, of the objections still remaining.
I want to ask one or two questions on this point. Were the elected local district councils concerned? Were they informed about the final plans for the rocket range, or were they not? I would 591 like to have a clear answer on that point. I know that Inverness County Council was shown the final plans, as far as that was possible within security limits, and that they apparently did not lodge any objection or ask for a public inquiry, which I think was still open to them at that time.
It was open to people to raise "objections of substance". Perhaps the Minister has a definition of what that means? I know that a number of local people who have, and still have, genuine grievances felt that the definition, "matters of substance", did not mean that that means objections of individuals. They thought it meant something to which at least a county council's status might object, or an interest much more substantial than that of an individual crofter. They may have been misled on that point. Perhaps, too, their modesty may have prevented them in some cases from going to the Scottish Office to ask whether they were people or interests of substance. They should have been reassured.
Last December I was told by the Secretary of State that the Air Ministry had been informed that it could proceed with the proposals for the guided missile establishment, and that the county council and other public interests consulted had "raised no objections" to the proposals of the Ministry. I wonder what course was available to the county council. Was it in a position to argue the case for the reduction of the amount of agricultural land to be requisitioned from individual crofters in that area, or was that to be left entirely to the Land Court later?
Could the county council, in fact, have lodged objections and asked for an inquiry? Because, if it had that opportunity for several weeks at least, once all the plans were known to the council, and failed to take advantage of it, then I think that the council has been remiss in its duty and responsibility to the people, and I have been at pains to tell the council so. If the local district councils had had that opportunity, they would have been equally guilty, and then I would have to blame the Ministry much less than some people might be inclined to do.
In another place, a few days ago, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence said that "the Government 592 should not, however, over-ride any genuine objections." That seems to have left the door still open for a little while. I hope that it has, because there are local objections and local objectors. I will not say that the local objection is anything like a unanimous, community objection, for I should be wrong. The meeting last Monday, which has been well publicised, certainly did not come to the conclusion that the local people were entirely against the whole project and wanted to throw it out unconditionally; but it asked, among other things, that there should still be a full and thorough inquiry at which objections could be heard.
I do not want the Minister to take too seriously some of the stranger things said at the meeting and in the Press. In many ways it was one of the most extraordinary meetings I have ever attended. Sir Compton Mackenzie in his best, or worst, and most profitable burlesques of the Western Isles could not have done any better than the real life, all-star cast which I saw on the part of that platform allocated to the Scottish Nationalist contingents.
We were marshalled together by responsible local spokesmen and told that certain people, including the chairman of the Liberal Party in Scotland, who had come along for the occasion full of altruism and a burning desire to assist the Hebrideans, myself, a number of crofters and other people, would be allowed to speak and say what the objections were or even what was good, if anything, about the scheme.
But, when I went to the platform, I found myself surrounded by a most extraordinary set of people, mainly from the Scottish Nationalist Party. I saw that very charming prophetess of the Scottish Nationalist Party, Miss Wendy Wood, whom I last met flying to this House from the police after some "subversive" activities around Nelson's Column. She made a speech which was at times slightly relevant—I hope that my remarks still are—to rocket ranges, and took in atomic fall-out and things which perhaps are not yet quite as directly associated with the guided missile range as she seemed to indicate.
Miss Wood based her authority in part on a rather dubious Highland seer of some centuries ago. One of the things he forecast was that a cow would be born 593 at the top of a Highland tower. I could not see the relevance of the Brahan seer to some of the other matters which were dealt with. The supporting male cast from the Scottish Nationalist Party was, however, interested in talking not so much about a little cow as what someone has described as "a lot of bull". That was one side of the Nationalist part of the platform.
On the other side of the platform I found a little gentleman from Glasgow—one of the prophets of the Scottish Nationalist Party. He was a passionate, intense, black-bearded little chap, and plastered—that is, with six inches of plaster on his forehead. I gathered that he had had some difficulty, the previous night, in finding his way along the unaccustomed Hebridean roads. They can be very rough if one tries to walk along them on one's forehead. I was told afterwards that he had stumbled while looking in the dark for a sporranful of election deposits lost by the Scottish Nationalist Party while opposing myself in the Isles. I might perhaps add that there is an old saying that on a dark Hebridean night in Benbecula one is apt to see even a white horse through a glass darkly. That might explain quite a number of things that happened up there, but I do not want to be too personal about the Nationalists' Party.
There, then, was the prophetess on my left and the "plastered" prophet on my right, and all around were passionate, intense young men of the Scottish Nationalist Party, all full of a burning desire to save the Hebrideans from themselves, from the Government, which is perhaps a little more laudable and sensible, and, at all events, from me, because I had misled them in so many ways. These people I have tried to describe were all on the platform, and I can assure hon. Members that they were all very entertaining.
So much for the part of the platform from which the fancy rhetoric came. It was most unfortunate, because it was an obvious attempt by some of them to exploit for party political ends the genuine objections and difficulties of the crofters. I deplore it very much, because in the Labour Party we have avoided any taint of playing party politics with the issue from the beginning.
594 I can understand the attitude of pacifists like my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes), for that is genuine, but I deplored a mixed platform of such people saying, "We are so fond of Scotland, of all Scotland, and particularly the Western Isles, that we say that, for Scotland's sake, the rocket range should be stuck in Harris or Morayshire." The range was described as "a monster," "an evil," and a lot of other things. Yet by some arguments it appeared that Scotia, which had rejected suckling the scheme with her left breast, should cuddle it tightly into her right. That sort of nonsense does not go down with a Hebridean audience, or, I hope, with anybody else.
If the Moray Firth were used, one can imagine rockets being fired into the fishing fleets or the shipping lanes. If the rockets went far enough, they might strike into the heart of Scandinavia and, to put it mildly, cause international troubles. If they were fired northwards, they might land in Ross and Cromarty or Inverness, or, with a bit of bad luck, make a direct hit on the Dounreay atomic reactor in Caithness and Sutherland. I doubt whether people have examined the possibilities when they suggest alternative sites. It was all very nonsensical, to select other people's areas.
I now return to the more serious points which were raised by the local people. I hope that the House and the Press will distinguish very clearly between the real local feelings and anxieties and the synthetic creations of the imaginations, perhaps the genuine patriotic ardour also, of some of the Scottish Nationalists and others. We were rather shocked by the blatant exhibition of some eccentric enthusiasts for our welfare, who have misstated our case.
§ Dr. J. Dickson Mabon (Greenock)
Will my hon. Friend make clear what happened to the Air Ministry officials who, I understand, were denied access to the meeting? As the Minister will no doubt make that a major point in his speech, perhaps my hon. Friend will explain why that was so and make it clear that those people ought to have been there, to explain the position, much earlier.
§ Mr. MacMillan
Earlier, I referred to the Government's lack of tact in the 595 handling of local public relations. I can assure my hon. Friend that if any Ministry missionaries sent to the Western Isles have disappeared, nothing serious has happened to them. We have a number of missionaries of our own in reserve, in case we become hungry. I will see whether I can find the Ministry men next time I go there. Better still, the Minister might go there himself to look for them.
So far, the point of view of only one part of the Western Isles, the Uists, has been put. The other areas must be credited with having a point of view, also. The feelings of Barra and Lewis must also be considered. If this is a strategic base, and, therefore, a target area, the whole area is involved and must be allowed to express itself if there is any question of local expression, like the proposed plebiscite, influencing Government decision and policy.
The serious part of the meeting, that is, the audience, the crofters on the platform, the chairman, a number of others and I were involved, was concerned with a motion. I did not oppose it, and I advised my friends in the audience—curiously enough, I had some—not to oppose it, but to vote for it.
That motion involved the still continuing demand for an inquiry locally into whatever genuine objections still remain, and there are several still remaining—and full fact finding. This composite resolution asked the Government to stop work on this project until after the inquiry into these objections, because, meantime, the project might very well encroach on the crofters' homes and land, and therefore the inquiry should be quickly instituted and completed. Then, on the basis of the facts made known after such an inquiry, a plebiscite should be held in the area to determine whether the people were in favour of this establishment or not.
This, I know, raises quite a number of rather difficult constitutional problems, and it may well be that the Minister will say that no Government, at the end of the day, can simply abrogate their responsibilities and authority and accept the decision of a local community, or a plebiscite of one; and there a difficulty arises. Whether they will be able to stop work on something which has already begun, and on which, they tell me, they have already taken an irrevoc- 596 able decision, is another question, which raises quite a lot of difficulties.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is it right for any Department to take an irrevocable decision without first obtaining the sanction of this House?
§ Mr. MacMillan
I have said that this matter raises constitutional difficulties, and I am not going to allow my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire to create any more at the moment, if he does not mind. There are plenty.
The composite resolution which involved this demand for an inquiry was unanimously carried, and it was obviously and clearly the view of the meeting which, according to the chairman himself, was representative of all the people in the islands concerned—Barra, South and North Uist and Benbecula.
Another question was informally put to the meeting and the answer to it was a very different one. On this occasion, the question was put whether the meeting favoured—if they had the power to do anything about it—the rejection of the establishment of a rocket range in the area without an inquiry, without qualification or reservation. The result of the vote on it was that about 30 out of a meeting of 600 voted for it; though I have been told that it was 40 out of 800. Anyway, I think it works out at one in 20 or 20 to one. That, I think, despite the apparent contradiction involved in it, nevertheless reflects an attempt to be very reasonable.
In other words, the people feel that, however strongly they might object to many aspects of this project, they do not want to throw it out or to attack the Government about it in the absence of knowledge of all the facts. I do not think that they could be more reasonable than that. Indeed, they have exercised restraint all the way, and I think the Government ought to respect the restraint which they have shown.
The Government should give them this inquiry. I do not know whether they can stop the work or not. That is a matter which only the Minister can decide.
§ Mr. MacMillan
I am afraid that they had Parliamentary sanction to begin it, in view of the authority of the Minister and in view of the Vote.
§ Mr. Hughes
At the beginning of the debate, the Minister himself assured us that there was no money in this Vote for it.
§ Mr. MacMillan
This certainly raises a very interesting point indeed. I did not hear his statement, but the Minister will perhaps say how the rocket range people can justify the beginning of the actual work when, as it appears to my hon. Friend, they have not yet received sanction for spending money on this particular project. That is perhaps something which the Under-Secretary, who will be replying later, will be able to explain.
What I am concerned with at the moment is this three-point request for an inquiry, which might also bring out the answer to the type of question which my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire has just been asking. The meeting also asked that the Air Ministry might thereafter allow time and opportunity for a plebiscite in the area to allow people to say clearly whether they favour the rejection or acceptance of the project. Even if they do not all imagine that the result of a plebiscite would necessarily influence the Government to cease work permanently or to abandon the scheme, they do feel that it would give some satisfaction to them in being able to say, in the light of the full facts arising from the inquiry, what their views are about something which is to affect their lives and the economy of their area very considerably.
Therefore, I suggest that the Government should themselves admit the justice of the demand for an inquiry now and make the necessary arrangements for holding it, so as to give the people that one satisfaction at least of being allowed to air and voice their objections and to hear the full answers of the Ministry, based upon a revelation of all the facts, and not upon this partial revelation of information which they have had so far.
There are also a few practical points with which such an inquiry might deal. One of these concerns encroachment upon land. There is great uncertainty 598 and vagueness about all this, and I shall not now talk about whether it is a few more or less than 1,000 or 2,000 acres. This is a broad matter which the Department of Agriculture in the Scottish Office can deal with, and one of the Ministers may want to say something about it. Nevertheless, land is one of the most important questions with which the Air Ministry will have to deal at any inquiry of this kind, because in that area, men without land, unless there is other employment available for them, are men without a livelihood, and it is important that any men who are displaced from their crofts or land—and I am afraid that some will be permanently displaced—should have a commensurate and permanent alternative livelihood made available to them. That is one thing which has certainly not been guaranteed under the Ministry's scheme or under any of the assurances which they have been given.
Why, for example, is there no scheme for reclamation of land to accommodate crofters whose land has been taken from them? They have had certain assurances about new houses, but if their land is taken it never will be replaced. Another question which is raised involves water supplies. Members of the local council have alleged that there will be a diversion of existing and proposed water supplies to the rocket range and its personnel from civilian requirements. For years we have been fighting in this House, or locally, for better water supplies for this area, both for people and cattle alike. If tins is only a rumour, then let it be scotched at once and all the facts made available. I know that the Air Ministry have assured us that, instead of interfering with the existing water supplies, or diverting new schemes, it will, in fact, extend and finance them; and I am prepared to accept the word of the Under-Secretary on that. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will make it a little clearer and will say what are the Ministry's intentions.
As a result of last Monday's meeting, there is a little alarm about the question of the atomic aspect of the guided missile range. Assurances have been given already about this, but all sorts of new rumours have been scooped up from the Scottish Nationalist platform of last Monday. I think the Minister might perhaps go out of his way to give a clear 599 and genuine assurance on this question. For instance, can he reassure people like myself, and local crofters and farmers, that if the range is finally established and developed, and personnel are brought in, they will make an effort to assist the local economy by encouraging the local people to produce and sell dairy produce and beef, eggs, and all the rest to the Air Ministry personnel and the other people on the rocket range? That in itself would be perhaps the most constructive thing that would come out of what is not in itself a constructive project.
All religious sections in the area are greatly alarmed that there may be pressure on people to work seven days a week, including Sunday, in an area where the Roman Catholic community, the Presbyterians and others have a considerable respect for the Sunday, for that one day of rest, which is an excellent legacy in itself. They are anxious that they should have a reassurance from the Minister on that point. May I encourage him to give that assurance?
During the war I asked Ernest Bevin that no man should be victimised who, on grounds of conscience, refused to work on airport construction on a Sunday. Without equivocation, he gave me the assurance that no man would be sacked who, on grounds of conscience, refused to work on Sunday.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
When the rocket range at Aberporth, in Cardiganshire was started, the hon. and learned Member for Cardigan (Mr. Bowen) received an assurance that there would be no work on Sunday, but that assurance has been broken.
§ Mr. MacMillan
It is regrettable that both the Sabbath and the assurance should have been broken by the same people. I hope that that will not occur in the Western Isles, that the wishes of the people and their conscientious susceptibilities will be very carefully respected, that where a man decides that he cannot, on a Sunday, conscientiously apply himself to the furtherance of Government policy on the matter of a rocket range, that objection will be respected.
We do not want some sort of bureaucratic pushover for the inquiry. We do not want any political party, Labour, 600 Tory, Scottish Nationalist or Liberal, using it as a propaganda platform, or anything of that kind. The Liberals have offered us a Q.C. from Edinburgh. They are well in on the ground floor—if there is a ground floor on a guided missile range. The Scottish Nationalists will offer us a brace of Q.C.s from Edinburgh in the next few days. We must guard against that sort of nonsense. We have tried to acquire no Labour Party party capital out of this and we expect that other parties will respect the genuine anxieties and worries of the local people in the same way. An inquiry of this kind should not be faced with all sorts of general questions of political philosophy—to put it at its highest. It should face the practical issues about the encroachment on the lives of the people, the economy of the area, on people's land and homes. That is one thing which the Ministry can do.
The Land Court is notoriously very conservative in matters of compensation and land valuation, perhaps necessarily. But the Ministry ought to go out of its way to be generous to people who, in many cases, will be put permanently out of their livelihoods, land and homes. During the last few months there have been pleas in the House for generous treatment of the people who have been put out of Egypt, as a result of Government policy and President Nasser's policy, which happened to have the one and same result in that respect.
There have been pleas only today that men who suffer loss of rank and a shortening of their careers in the R.A.F., through reduction in numbers in the Service and changes in Government policy, should also be generously treated. It would be odd if the Government were not to treat equally generously people who did not even have a gratuity to which they could look forward, and who had been pushed out of their homes and uprooted from their own home area.
I have tried to avoid the rhetorical excesses of the lady seer and the plastered prophet from the Scottish Nationalist Party; but I assure the Government that I do feel extremely strongly on this matter. The Government have badly failed in their public relations. While there has been consultation at the Land Officer's level and other local levels, there is a feeling that someone should 601 have been available who could answer questions directly, someone like the Minister, able to take responsibility himself and not having to look over his shoulder to London all the time, in case he said the wrong thing. I suggest that the Secretary of State, the Under-Secretary, or Lord Mancroft, who promised to come to the area, should come as soon as possible and, on his own responsible initiative, establish a local inquiry to go into all the facts and, within the limits of security, tell the people everything that can possibly be told. I think that if they are honest with the local people they will find that they will be perfectly honest with them.
§ 6.55 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I thought that I had been taken to the realms of Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and "Alice Through the Looking-Glass." It was with considerable pleasure that I found myself in the Western Isles. We were all very much brought down to earth through the "plaster prophet" and the projected rocket range in that part of the country. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will find all his work cut out if he is to reply to all the points which the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Malcolm MacMillan) raised.
It is an interesting fact that at a time like this, when we are discussing weapons of destruction and the future pattern of the Royal Air Force, the parochial aspect of an event such as a projected rocket range in the Western Isles can intrude into a debate, that the Minister can be forced to take account of the objections and made to consider the opinions of the people who are to be asked to have a range in their vicinity.
In some respects the character of the debate has been a little unreal. I listened very carefully to the hon. Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock). He said that fighter aircraft were doomed as soon as the first rocket was fired, that bomber aircraft were doomed as soon as the first American bomber was put on English territory. We were then told by other hon. Members that the rocket is still many years ahead.
I can understand that it is difficult precisely to assess the position of the Royal Air Force at this moment. It is undergoing a period of transition. In such a 602 period, when the future pattern is not perfectly clear, it is especially difficult exactly to assess what will be the form of the Royal Air Force in five or ten years. It is made even more difficult because of security. It is obvious that in a state of transition from the total use of aircraft to what may be the total use of guided weapons, or the use of both aircraft and guided weapons, it is extremely difficulty to say what exactly may happen without entirely breaking the rules of security. Much as hon. Members opposite may press for information, I am sure that in their hearts they realise that in the circumstances of the time it is extremely difficult to give them all the information they want. If they were in the Government's position, they would find it equally difficult.
§ Mr. Burden
If the hon. Member understands the problem at all he will also appreciate that if we say too much we can do far more damage than if we say too little. It is absolutely essential not to say too much, particularly in security matters.
At present, I think that everybody accepts the fact that the V-bomber is a deterrent. The Russians themselves have accepted that the hydrogen bomb that it would carry is a deterrent. They do not want to see it used any more than we do. But it is extremely difficult to assess exactly how long the hydrogen or atomic weapon, delivered by aircraft, will remain a deterrent. It is very difficult to appreciate when it might be replaced by the atomic warhead, fired by long-range rockets.
Most of us probably took some encouragement from the fact that my right hon. Friend stated quite clearly and categorically that in his view fighter aircraft would be the main defence of these islands for some considerable time. I have no doubt that he made that observation after very carefully assessing the position not only of our own Air Force, but that of any potential enemy. Whatever hon. Members may feel about other factors, I think that we would all accept 603 that there are ways and means of assessing the power of an enemy and the position that it has reached in the development of long-range rockets.
In last year's debate, we were told that surface-to-surface air weapons have been tried and found satisfactory, but it is a question whether much progress has been made. It is quite clear from what the Minister has said that we have certainly not reached the position when we can prepare to take the plunge and replace our well-tried fighter defences with surface-to-air rockets. From all that we have heard, however, it is quite evident that the development of these weapons must be kept under constant review and that a great deal of technical "know-how" and money must be put into their further development.
I know that there is great concern whether there is a close enough tie-up between ourselves and America in the development of these new weapons, to ensure that we do not pursue research on parallel lines, except by agreement, and that our air resources and theirs are teamed up so as to examine and develop alternative policies which, as a result of co-operation, will enable us to develop more weapons more rapidly than would be the case if we each restricted our investigations to only one or two lines of research, which might be duplicated in both countries.
Until these new weapons have been fully developed it is evident that we must have a small but highly efficient Air Force. Our Air Force today is a highly technical and rapidly changing Service, and it has a growing need for high-class manpower. In the light of the modern weapons that they would use the sort of men now required to equip the Air Force—and, indeed, all our fighting Services—are the same sort of men who will be required for the factories and workshops outside, in this electronic and atomic age.
There will be a great deal of competition for them. They will be offered very high salaries, and careers in industry will offer great scope to their knowledge and training, besides which they will be well pensioned at the end of their industrial life. In those circumstances, the Services—and especially the Royal Air Force, because it requires this sort of man more than any other Service—will find it increasingly difficult to get 604 recruits. During this transitional period there will be an hiatus in the Service which will create in the minds of young men and women a concern about their future and their rôle in the R.A.F., but it is absolutely essential that the Services get the right people. All this time outside industry will be exerting pressure upon young people to enter industry and research establishments outside the Services.
While this pressure is continuing during this transitional period it must be made quite clear that, even though people may enter the Service now, their careers will be assured and that they will receive terms of engagement which will compare with anything they could get in outside industry. It is more important to make sure of that now than it might be in five or ten years' time, when the pattern has been laid and the future is easily recognisable.
The hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North made a very important point about careers. He suggested that it might be a good thing to look into the possibility of restricting the length of overseas tours to one year. I know that in the past it has been accepted that such tours should last for two and a half years, but times have changed. It is now possible to ship a man from this country by aircraft and save all the time which used to be taken up in sending him by sea, with all the period needed for settling down. If, upon examination, it can be proved that many men will not enter the Service because they dislike an overseas tour of two and a half years, it would be a very good idea if the period could be shortened.
There is pressure from all parties to abolish National Service. We should all like to see that. But that itself will make the problems of recruitment to the Royal Air Force more difficult. At present, many suitable men beginning their National Service in the Royal Air Force might well be encouraged to take up permanent commissions afterwards, but, when National Service comes to an end, the Royal Air Force will have to recruit direct from civil life. It will not have the opportunity of conditioning men while they are doing their National Service, so that they are ready to sign a long-term engagement.
605 The questions of pay and accommodation are extremely important. I know that there have been great advances in pay in the last two years, but those of us who are interested in the Services know how dissatisfied many families are with the accommodation prospects in the Services. It is still a very great problem. I was encouraged to see, from Votes I to XI, that £645,000 is to be spent in providing married quarters, and that £122,000 will be expended before 1st September.
It was also interesting to see that accommodation for personnel to the value of £15,615,000 is to be built, and that works to the value of £683,000 are to be started before 1st September. That is all to the good. I would like to know what proportion is being built in this country and what proportion is being built abroad.
I notice that a great sum of money is being expended on workshops and technical buildings. In this period of transition we ought to expect that. We understand it and are thankful that it should be so. One very considerable sum, amounting to £17,304,000, is to be spent on airfields starting before 1st September, 1957. That would seem to answer very clearly many of the opinions that the future aircraft needs have not yet been determined. If we are to spend large sums of money on airfields it gives an absolute assurance, in the foreseeable future, to young men who might want to go into the Royal Air Force that they will be able to fly.
Although we may well believe that the traditional rôles of fighter and bomber are passing, their very passing will bring a much expanded use of transport aircraft. The very fact that that expansion will take place when the other Services are shrinking will guarantee that pilots who are in the service will be usefully employed on flying the aircraft of tomorrow. I am sure that my hon. Friends are correct in their view that we must pay far more attention to Transport Command than we have done in the past.
It is particularly important that the Minister should lose no time in assuring those who may be holding back from joining the R.A.F., as well as those who are now in the R.A.F. and fear for their 606 careers, that there will be a future for them all, and that those who wish to join the R.A.F. may do so with confidence.
§ 7.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Frank Beswick (Uxbridge)
Two right hon. Gentlemen who have now left the Chamber gave me the benefit of their opinions about this debate before they left. One described it as a farce, a shadow-boxing debate, and the other said that he was reminded of the debates which took place during the war when vast sums of money were voted and very small amounts of information were given.
When the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) said there was a danger in giving too much information, I thought that the Secretary of State for Air had very smartly avoided that danger. It is impossible to discuss the air defences unless we have information about what some of the items of equipment can do. My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), in an interesting speech from our side of the Committee, complained about technical journals dealing so much with the battles of the past. The fact of the matter is that most of the technical journals and especially those from the United States, give far more information than is given by the Government. This form of debate is quite unsuited for any rational discussion about defence matters. Some form of standing committee would be much more use.
§ Mr. Burden
When the hon. Gentleman's party were in power the Government undertook the manufacture of the atomic bomb, but did not say that they were doing it. That illustrates the importance of security.
§ Mr. Beswick
There is some difference between the development and production of aircraft and of the atomic weapon. We are given information about the cost of aircraft but nothing about the things which they can do.
I have risen tonight to speak on only one matter, about which we have had a certain amount of information, and which is wholly discreditable to the Government and to Ministers concerned. I speak of the disbanding of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. I realise that both the Secretary of State for Air and his Under-Secretary of State had no hand in that 607 matter when the decision was made, and nothing that I say must be understood to reflect upon them personally. I welcome them to their respective offices, and to what I hope will be a happy but a short time there. They represent the Government of the day and it is to them that I have to put my criticisms. The Government which can bungle a Service and defence matter in the way in which this matter of the Auxiliary Air Force has been bungled can command no confidence in the country at all.
One hon. Gentleman who is a supporter of the Government said that the more he considered the matter the more certain he was that the Government had made the right decision. I, too, have given careful thought to the matter and have come to the opposite conclusion. I have come honestly to the view, and not because I happen to stand on the Opposition side of the Committee, that there was a mistake here. Even now we ought to ask ourselves whether that mistake ought not to be set right. Apart from the merits of the decision, the handling of it was terrible. There can be no doubt on that score—I commend what the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) said about it. The manner in which that decision was put into effect was deplorable. This force had an inspiring record of service to which tribute has been paid today from all sides of the Committee. Its current standards were of the highest. There has not been a word of criticism or complaint about them.
What happened? The commanding officers received a peremptory signal to say that the force was to be disbanded. Those men have devoted a great deal of their lives and all of their spare time to this work, and they would have gone even further. For their pains they get a kick in the teeth. An apology is owed by someone to those men; I say that quite sincerely.
There is involved here something to which reference has been made by one or two hon. Members—the question of morale. To boost morale we need this spirit of voluntary service. No matter what we may say about the fighting Services—what their shape is to be, what their size is to be, or what kind of 608 weapons we are to have—it does not matter at all how wise our decisions about equipment may be if the spirit of the men is not right. I think that goes for the rest of our national life as well. I am not worried if we have a temporary difficulty over our balance of payments, or if our dollar reserves are low so long as the spirit of the people is right. Then I am quite sure we shall get over such a difficulty.
If we are to have the necessary zest and enthusiasm among the men in the Service there has to be that climate and atmosphere in the country which supports and encourages the spirit of voluntary service. This Government of all Governments have given the sharpest rebuff to that spirit of voluntary service that has been administered by any Government in the last half century. I know that the Secretary of State really agrees with me about this. I am sure that he does, yet the fact remains that it was his Department which displayed this offhand manner.
The Under-Secretary was good enough to give me a copy of the Press notice issued on 3rd March. This is how the Air Ministry News Service notice reads:The Air Council will give a dinner in the Harcourt Room at the House of Commons on Saturday, 16th March, 1957 to representatives of all the Royal Auxiliary Air Force Squadrons and Units which are being disbanded.I do not wish to be critical of the right hon. Gentleman, who I know wanted to say something and do something for these men, but this is really not good enough. This really does not meet the situation. There should have been an opportunity for the country as a whole to pay some tribute to this force before it was completely disbanded. There have been the standing-down parades of various of the squadrons, but we should have had a national parade here in London to which the people as a whole could have paid some tribute to men and units which have served this country very well indeed and were prepared to go on serving it had they been given the chance.
I am sure that they will appreciate this dinner. I hope that it will be a happy affair, but I wonder whether something more than that should not be done. I make this suggestion. I should have thought some sort of decoration or award might have been given. That may be a 609 a little thing, but often such a recognition goes a long way. The little "A" in the lapel meant quite a lot to these men. In the same way the "O" on the brevet has gathered an importance quite beyond its actual value. In this case I wonder whether these men who were in the Service and were prepared to continue to serve could not be given some sort of decoration as an indication of the value placed on their voluntary service. I hope that the Secretary of State will consider that suggestion.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I go a long way with the hon. Member in respect of what he has been saying, but I hope that he will make the point that other ranks as well as officers should get such recognition. The officers are to have a dinner, but what about the other ranks? They do not get a dinner.
§ Mr. Beswick
I was not referring to the officers only, but to the whole personnel of the force. I am grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for emphasising that point.
Let us look at the decision itself. Are we quite sure that a mistake has not been made? In the Answers to Questions in this House it has been stressed that this was primarily a question of cost. We all support economy, and I sympathise with any Minister who has support from everyone for economies in general but criticism from everyone when it comes to economies in particular. I appreciate that if we are to economise someone is bound to be hurt, but I wonder whether in this case the Regular officers who have sat around the table and decided who was to be hurt did not pick on those least able to speak up for themselves, and whether this decision was not the easiest way out.
When I raised this matter the Secretary of State said that it cost £175 an hour to fly a Hunter and therefore he said it was not possible to equip the squadrons with Hunters. Of course it costs a lot of money to fly modern aircraft, but that does not necessarily mean that these particular pilots should be dismissed. The fact that it costs so much to fly modern aircraft is an argument for contracting Fighter Command or Bomber Command, it is an argument for reducing the size of the Air Force, but not necessarily an argument for cutting out this voluntary force altogether.
610 I hope that it is still worth while to have a look at the constructive alternatives put forward. One was that the auxiliaries should be attached to a Regular squadron as a reserve flight. What are the objections to that? One was put forward by the Secretary of State on 30th January when he told me:in order to keep the airfields open at weekends for Auxiliary flying … would be a very costly business indeed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 30th January, 1957; Vol 563, c. 994.]—thereby suggesting that the airfields were not open at week-ends—that they were open during the week, but not at week-ends.
§ Mr. Beswick
Are there any open at week-ends? If any are open at week-ends these men are prepared to go to them and do their necessary operational duty.
§ Mr. Beswick
As a matter of interest, I wonder how many fighter aircraft were operational last Saturday or Sunday. I am informed that there were probably three or five. I may be mistaken. If so, probably the Secretary of State would correct me. If the Secretary of State was wrong when he said that he could not open these airfields for the purpose of having this reserve flight doing its training, the suggestion put forward is a reasonable one and one which he ought to look at. If, on the other hand, he is saying that the airfields are not open and therefore the idea was not a practical one, there is something wrong with his whole conception of the fighter defence of this country. He cannot have it both ways.
The right hon. Gentleman did not then say that it was a matter of the Regular squadrons spreading their service over seven days in five-day shifts. He said that the trouble was that it would be necessary to have master diversion facilities. These squadrons have been flying quite happily as day fighters in the past and there have not been 24-hour master diversion facilities. There is a 611 pattern of day diversionary airfields but they are available anyhow and it would not mean having extra diversionary airfields if this proposal were put into effect.
Then the Secretary of State said it would be necessary to have additional Regular personnel on the ground. I wonder if he overlooked the fact that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force had rather more than 2,000 skilled ground personnel? They were prepared to go to whichever of the Regular air squadrons were able to accommodate them. I do not know why the Secretary of State is grinning at this.
§ Mr. Beswick
The right hon. Gentleman has laid himself open to a great deal of criticism in the replies which he has given on this matter. Consequently, I feel that the additional cost which the right hon. Gentleman said we should have to meet if the auxiliaries were attached as reserve flights does not appear to be so great after all.
§ Mr. Ward
It is not quite so easy as the hon. Gentleman is trying to make out. I am prepared to admit that the auxiliaries have done a very good job of maintenance work over the weekends, but they have had two advantages. I know this, because I was an auxiliary. First, they have had a very large number of Regulars working with them in a supervisory capacity, and those Regulars, in fact, have done a great deal of the important work. Secondly, the aircraft have been standing in the hangars or on the ground for perhaps four days, allowing plenty of time for maintenance to make them serviceable before the auxiliaries turn out at the weekends. In the case of Regular squadrons, where the aircraft have been flying all the week, it is a different matter altogether.
§ Mr. Beswick
It is another matter, but it is a matter worth investigating. The total amount of flying done by Regular Squadron aircraft is not very high. When one considers the number of flying hours that one gets from these aircraft, one wonders whether we are using them to the most economical extent.
In so far as the Secretary of State is right in saying that there were Regular 612 personnel doing the ground servicing for the auxiliary squadrons, he is contradicting himself when he says that additional Regular personnel would be needed if the auxiliaries went to do their flying on other Regular squadron airfields.
§ Mr. Beswick
I still feel that the Secretary of State, who has to consider the whole of our fighter defence problem, is not applying himself to the administrative possibilities of their scheme. If he really wanted to find a solution, he could do so.
Let us look a little closer at the additional cost which would be involved. I have previously said that it would be much more sensible and rational if we had settled the future rôle of Fighter Command before doing anything final about this hitherto integral part of our fighter defences, the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. There is a case for saying that we should "scrub" manned fighter defences altogether. However, even if it becomes plain that the threat from ballistic missiles is such that manned fighters are useless, or even if we accept that guided missiles from ground to air are the only defence against high altitude, high-speed jet bombers, I still agree with other hon. Members that it would be most difficult to say that we should not have some element of conventional manned fighters.
There are two reasons for that. First, there is the possibility that, if the whole of our defences were geared to combat ultra-modern attackers, it would be feasible for an old aircraft of the Anson type to come along at a comparatively low level, unmolested by guided missiles, and lob overboad a nuclear bomb. That sort of thing would have to be considered.
Secondly, there is the possibility of trouble overseas. We must have at any rate a small force of conventional manned fighters for overseas service. I understand that the auxiliaries have declared that they would be ready to accept an overseas obligation. It was put to me that they would be ready to go at two days' notice.
If there is to be a Fighter Command at all, let us decide its size, and then, within that agreed size, I believe that there will still be found a rôle for the 613 auxiliaries, and the total cost will be reduced. If it is said that we should have conventional forces in the nuclear age, the conventional forces need not be so highly equipped as they have been in the past, because if used they will not be employed in circumstances in which even the most modern fighters and most highly trained pilots would be incapable of putting up any defence. I hope that the Secretary of State will look at the matter again although it is so very late.
When the Secretary of State was winding up in the defence debate, he tended to suggest that the whole purpose of alternative employment or a different rôle for the auxiliary squadrons was to… provide weekend flying for the auxiliary squadrons …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th February, 1957; Vol. 564, c. 1394.]That has not been the object of the exercise at all. We have not made all these arrangements, I hope, simply to provide weekend flying for some individuals. It has been a matter of utilising, in the country's interest, the skilled voluntary effort of these men as against the use of more expensive, full-time men. I hope that the Secretary of State will be good enough to remove the impression which he unwittingly created by his remarks.
I hope that the Secretary of State will not raise the question of the experience of the auxiliary pilots and suggest that they are not capable of carrying out the type of rôle which has been suggested. Many of them are far more experienced than the Regular pilots of today. The right hon. Gentleman told me that only fifteen auxiliary pilots had been converted to the Hunter. But the Hunter is not a difficult aircraft to fly. It may be a difficult aircraft to use in combat, but that is the fault of the aircraft and not the pilots. The Hunter, I am informed—I have never flown it—is an easier aircraft to fly that the Meteor. Consequently, I do not think the difficulty of conversion should enter into the matter at all. As has been said, it was the auxiliary squadrons which first went into battle in the last war, and I believe that they can keep themselves up to full operational standards.
Other proposals have been put forward for using the skill of the auxiliaries. It has been suggested that the pilots should be used on transport services, either with the Royal Air Force Transport Command 614 or in civil air transport. Has any consideration been given to that suggestion?
I should also like to know what is the position of the National Service pilot who, after his period in the Regular Service, opted to join the auxiliaries for his Reserve commitment. I do not know whether anything has happened in the last week or so, but when I last spoke to such men I found that they had not even been told what the position is. This is slovenly and incompetent. It is not the way in which we should administer our Service.
It has been laid down by law that these men have a definite Reserve commitment. They were ready to do more than their Reserve commitment and they joined the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. Now they are told that the squadrons which they joined to carry out their commitments are being disbanded, but they have not been told what they are to do. Are they to wander off free, having been released from all future Reserve commitments? Are they no longer liable for Reserve training? If so, why have they not been told? If they are liable to Reserve training in future, extra cost will be involved, and the Secretary of State's £175 an hour for flying the Hunter will again come into effect. He then will probably find that the estimated saving which was to be made by the disbandment of this force will not, in fact, result.
As the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield raised the point, I just emphasise once more that although I have spoken to a large extent of the pilots, there are, in addition, some 2,000-odd highly-trained auxiliary ground crew, and I should have thought it a mistake to throw away their skill and experience.
There is a further aspect of the economy question. I suggested in a Question that it had cost the country about £3 million to train these auxiliary pilots. I based that on a figure of about £10,000 per pilot. But I find that I am out of date, and that the cost of training a pilot is now about £45,000. On that basis, it has cost us about £15 million to train these 300-odd auxiliary pilots. We are talking of economy, yet it has cost us £15 million to train these men—and then they get a signal to say that they are no longer wanted.
§ Mr. Beswick
No, I am talking about the capital invested in these pilots which, on the latest figure, amounts to about £15 million.
If the Government are after economy I think that they are going about it in a very curious way indeed. Surely it is possible to utilise the skill that lies within these men, to use the capital value which has been built into them, and to use their enthusiasm. A lot has been done to damp that enthusiasm. I feel that it will be a bad thing for this country if we rebuff men in the way in which these men have been rebuffed. I hope that the Secretary of State will give us some assurance that even now he will look at the whole matter again to see if he cannot get an overall economy and still integrate these auxiliary units into the Regular squadrons.
If that cannot be done, can he say that some further effort will be made to see that these skilled pilots get an opportunity of putting their skill at the country's disposal, either in civil air transport, the R.A.F. Transport Command or in some other way? If it is beyond the wit of his Department to arrange something, I must say that there are many people who will not have much confidence in the Government's capacity to solve the greater problem of the country's air defence.
§ 7.43 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
I had no intention of intervening in the debate, but since I came into the Chamber certain points have been raised, and I must say a few words, as has the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), on behalf of the auxiliary pilots.
No one was more surprised or shocked than I when I first heard that the Auxiliary Air Force, which served the country so well in the war, and for twenty-five years before and after, was doomed to extinction. I was indignant because, during the last war, I had an opportunity of seeing at first hand the admirable and magnificent work that it did, and the enormous contribution it made to the defence of the country and in the winning of the Battle of Britain.
No one will dispute that. It never has been disputed, and certainly not by the Minister, who had a close connection with the Auxiliary Air Force. I am sure that that applies also to the Chief of the Air Staff of today, who also had a very close connection with that force, and to 616 anybody who has known anything about the Royal Auxiliary Air Force since its formation.
As I say, I felt great indignation when I first heard that the men of this force were being suddenly disbanded, more particularly when I heard that they were being grounded without previous notice. I thought that they were getting a very raw deal. Having heard the other side of the story, I have been forced to the conclusion that the attitude of the Government was right in the circumstances. We who saw the men personally know that they confessed to a sense of grievance because they had not been told until the last moment that they had no further rôle in our defence plans and were to be grounded from a certain date.
The answer to that is this. I understand that the problem of whether or not to disband the Auxiliary Air Force had been under consideration for at least two years. It certainly took the Air Council and the Government a long time in which to make up their minds. Having decided that it was to be disbanded, the decision to ground them on a certain date was right. Anyone who knows these young pilots, their enthusiasm and their indignation at being treated like that, must know that there was a very great danger that they might, in a final flight before disbandment, want to show their skill as pilots.
I have seen that happen, and with disastrous results. Indeed, we had an example of that at Bristol, where a very experienced pilot tried to demonstrate his skill by going under a bridge and performing other feats which he well knew were prohibited by regulations. That was an example of what might have happened in all the squadrons before disbandment, and that is why I say that the decision to ground them once having been made, it was right that it should be fixed for a certain date.
A second grievance these men had was that no alternative was given to their weekend flying. There were 200 or 300 very good pilots. They were not all first-class; some were very experienced, but others were in the course of training with these jet aircraft. No doubt they were the best material in the world. They were volunteers and must have been very keen when they were willing to give up their weekends to flying. They showed a 617 keenness and an enthusiasm which should not be discouraged, and, naturally, felt indignant when no alternative was offered after their weekend exercises had been discontinued.
I understand that, and anyone who is aware of the situation must feel that some means must be found by which their services can be used in the country's defence. I hope that we shall be told this evening that there are alternatives which can be suggested to these men—and certainly to the pilots. Most of them work in the City or elsewhere and it is very difficult for them to give more time than they gave in the past to their training and flying exercises.
There is also the ground staff. There are about 2,000 auxiliary ground staff, I believe. We were told that the ground staff had carried on their duties and kept the squadrons in service all these years, and some of us were under the impression—certainly, I was—that they did the job alone. But that is not the fact at all. There were over 800 Regular technical Air Force personnel who were responsible for looking after the Auxiliary Air Force. Without those 800 technical personnel of the Regular Air Force, the Auxiliary Air Force, I am now convinced, could not have flown at all.
It is quite ridiculous to think that the Auxiliary pilots could take over machines which had been flown in the week by Regular Air Force pilots and on Friday, Saturday or Sunday find them in first-class flying condition. They could not do so, if only because the Auxiliary Air Force technicians, who, also, were part-time, could not possibly keep the machines in fighting condition and ready to fly at the weekends; they had not the time to do it. The 800 Regular Air Force personnel were essential to the running of the Auxiliary Air Force.
I still feel that there should be some way of utilising to the best advantage these voluntary Auxiliary personnel who now find themselves, very reluctantly, out on a limb because their services are no longer required. I should like to know from the Minister whether due consideration has been given to finding some means whereby the services of these admirable men can be used in the future.
618 As for the pilots, I do not know how we are to keep up this voluntary effort. Since I have been a Member of the House of Commons, I have always been very keen on flying clubs. In flying clubs, enthusiastic civilian flyers have been able to get flying training. If we are to make this an air-minded nation and bring up a air-minded young generation there must be some incentive and method of training for these people in order that, when the time comes for their services to be of use to the nation, they will be equipped for the task.
After this last war, I was more than ever keen on flying clubs. I regret to say that when right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite were sitting upon the Government Front Bench at the time of the first Labour Government after the war, and I made the same plea for flying clubs and for encouragement to be given to them, there was very little support. The situation is the same today. I happened to be president of a small flying club in the Isle of Wight and all we had by way of personnel was myself, the president, and one or two flying instructors who handled the volunteers who wanted to qualify for flying.
In our little Isle of Wight we trained over 150 people to fly in that time. I do not say they were very skilled, but there were certain tests to pass, which they did pass and they were qualified in the elementary stages of flying. When the war came, I joined up, the instructors joined up, and every member of that flying club joined the Royal Air Force.
I maintained then, and I still maintain, that flying clubs are the very best recruiting ground for the Regular Air Force that we can possibly find. Membership of flying clubs gives young men enthusiasm at an early stage. They can be trained in the elementary stages of flying, and they become air-minded. When the time comes for their services to be required in the defence of the country, there is available an abundance of recruits such as, I am quite convinced, could not otherwise be found either in the Auxiliary Air Force or in the Regular Air Force.
I plead with the Government to do something more to encourage flying clubs. Very little has been done by any Government since the war. There is tremendous scope for Government support here. It 619 would not cost very much, but the results would pay dividends in providing a basis for recruiting when the time comes.
§ Mr. Beswick
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I wonder whether he would just put to the Secretary of State that, if he is to encourage flying clubs, he must remember that in private flying one of the things most needed is an aerodrome near London, and that he should make up his mind to give up Hendon so that private flyers could use that?
§ Sir P. Macdonald
That is a point, and I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman has made it himself; but Hendon is not the only aerodrome in the country.
There must be aerodromes in the areas in which the flying clubs are situated. We had hundreds of flying clubs in the country before the war. We had a very good one in the Isle of Wight, which is not a very big area. Of course, if there is to be a flying club, there must be an aerodrome, and it must be situated in the place where one will get one's flying members. No doubt Hendon is a very important place for flying clubs in London, but there must be suitable aerodromes scattered all over the country in the most convenient places from which the clubs can operate.
So much for the Auxiliary Air Force. I hope that the Government will suggest alternative means of utilising the services of these admirable pilots and ground staff, and not discourage them altogether from the wonderful voluntary effort which they have up to now always given.
A good deal has been said about recruiting. This is of vital importance. There has been a good deal of talk about reducing National Service. I regard that as absolutely essential. No doubt the Air Force will have to make its contribution in the reduction of National Service recruiting. This cannot take place right away to any extent, but I want to know what the Government are doing to encourage Regular Air Force recruiting against the day when the National Service man is not available, or the numbers are cut down.
It is most essential that we should have incentives for recruiting in the Regular Air Force, or, for that matter, in the Regular Army or Navy. What are the incentives which one must apply to the 620 Royal Air Force? First, pay is a very important factor in recruiting for the Air Force or for any other force one is tying to raise. Pay and allowances are of vital importance, and the various alterations which have been made recently in the pay and allowances of the Air Force, and the Services generally, have certainly made them more attractive than in the past. I do not, therefore, believe that that is the chief objection to Regular recruiting at present. There are other things, and nobody representing a constituency in the House of Commons can doubt that these other problems arise every day.
The questions that worry every man in the Service today are pay and allowances, leave, housing—which is of vital importance and plays a big part in Regular recruiting—and schooling for the children of Service personnel. Because of its mobility and the possibility that men might be moved to almost any part of the world at short notice, either leaving their families behind or taking them with them and interfering with schooling, the Royal Air Force has always been concerned about the education of the children of Service personnel. There is great scope for the Government to do a good deal more to ensure that the education of the children of Regular Air Force personnel is catered for better than it has been in the past and I hope that this is one of the things that the Government are considering.
It is not difficult to get recruits for the Air Force. What is important to these young fellows is that they go into the Air Force because they want training in one branch or another of the Service, either in radar or some other technical branch, and after spending, say, four or five years in a technical branch of the Service they want to come out with the feeling that their years of training and their technical skill can be utilised in civilian life.
The trade unions can play a part in this. I do not know whether any arrangements have been made with them, but it is extremely important that if we are to get young men to go into the Regular Air Force for a number of years, they should be able to feel that after spending their years in the Service, which, today, is highly developed and skilled, their training should not be wasted in civilian life. I hope that when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary replies to the debate, 621 he will say what is being done towards providing for the future of potential Regular recruits.
Then there is the question of short-term and long-term engagements. I do not think that anybody is keen today to undertake a long-term engagement initially. Men like to join for three or five years before they sign on for a longer period. Our aim should be to try to make conditions in the Royal Air Force sufficiently attractive to get recruits to undertake long-term engagements. That is what the Service requires.
The Royal Air Force is a wonderful life today. If I were a young man, I should have no hesitation whatever in taking it up. We know that this applies to most of the National Service men who are called up, who want to join either the Royal Air Force or the Navy but are not so keen on the poor old Army. There is no difficulty about getting recruits for the R.A.F. The problem today is to get them to take on long-term engagements.
Having formed a squadron during the war, I know from experience that it is the long-term man who must train the recruit and the short-term man. I was lucky to have a warrant officer who had been in the Service for over twenty years. I had no hesitation in putting younger men under him, because he was the best possible instructor in the world.
The incentive for that warrant officer to spend twenty-one years of his life in the R.A.F. was the attraction of the Service. He had his home service and his overseas service. He was fascinated by aeroplanes. He found the Service attractive, although it was not as attractive then as it is today. He stayed on. He was offered a commission on various occasions but declined because he preferred to be a warrant officer. He said that when eventually he got his pension, he would be better off on a warrant officer's pension than on an officer's pension. That man was an example to the whole of the Service and he stayed on for another five or ten years. That is the type of man we want to encourage in the R.A.F. today.
We want men who will make the Service their life. They are the men who will be the basis of the Service and bring up new recruits in the way that they should be trained. Today, however, it requires a very skilled technician to 622 keep up with the advance of jet and atomic propulsion, and we must provide the proper encouragement. There is tremendous competition outside the Service to attract young, skilled men into industry and to pay them high wages as well as offering them an attractive life. Therefore, if we are to have an up-to-date, skilled, technical Royal Air Force, we must make conditions as attractive as possible.
I am anxious to hear what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has to say and I hope that he will answer the questions which I and other hon. Members have raised during this very interesting debate.
§ 8.8 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I have listened to most of these debates for the last ten years and I almost know in advance what everybody is going to say. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) has left, because I thought I detected in his speech a certain amount of agreement with what I tried to teach him about ten years ago. The moment that I made a sign of approbation, however, the hon. and gallant Member beat a retreat and said that he was not advocating his policy because I gave him my support.
I welcome the support of all these distinguished gallant Gentlemen who are beginning to ask some of the rather awkward questions which ought to be asked in this debate, but I deplore the degree of interest that is shown in Service debates. During the debate on the Navy Estimates, the average number of Members present was scarcely sufficient to man a frigate, while we could have put the average number of Members who have attended today's debate in one of the Viscount aircraft which bring me down from Scotland.
Although the Secretary of State for Air and I have argued in these debates for ten years, I am sure that the one thing that we agree about is that there should be more interest in Service debates because after all we are spending a great deal of money. We are being presented with an account for £240 million today, and we are spending at the rate of £40 million an hour, but the right hon. Gentleman had precious little to say in 623 defence of it. I have heard it said that the good defence Minister is a man who gives nothing away, and certainly the Secretary of State gave nothing away. It is we who are giving the money away.
We are today discussing an Estimate of two pages. Next year these accounts may be presented on half a page. If the Minister of Defence, with his laconic answers to Questions, is still in office in two years' time, we shall find that when we ask about the Air Estimates and the Memorandum he will answer in his curt way, "None, Sir". Indeed, the Estimates might be summarised a little further and we might find ourselves presented with an algebraic equation, I.C.B.M.=xy. Then I suppose that I shall be asking why and receiving no satisfactory answer.
It used to be said that the Russians had 6,000 aeroplanes and we must go on building more aeroplanes and more of these bombers, some of which have not arrived yet, and then we could dictate to the Russians from a position of strength. I used to argue that the Russians might want to negotiate from strength too, and that in the end we would find that both countries had spent an enormous amount of money on obsolete aircraft. That is the position today, because I have read in an article by Mr. Hanson Baldwin in the New York Times about the immense progress in the development of the Russian air force. In another article in the New York Herald Tribune the brothers Allsop have spoken about the tremendously rapid advance of Russian technique, with the result that the Americans feel that they are behind in the race.
Who am I to judge upon that? It seems to me that after all these years, during which the present Secretary of State for Air and myself used to compete so often for the last ten minutes of the debate, we have spent about £5,000 million or perhaps £8,000 million on aircraft, which we are now told will be superseded by guided missiles. I believe that it was in last year's debate that the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield, from whom I have learned such a great deal, said that in five or ten years' time there would be no bombers and he would not think of advising any young man to take up duty in bomber aircraft as a career. Neither would I.
624 Let us imagine a potential recruit for the Air Force opening the Manchester Guardian last week and seeing the announcement which I now display to the Committee.
§ Mr. Hughes
If he does not read the Manchester Guardian it does not say very much for the level of intelligence of the potential recruit.
I absolve the Secretary of State for Air from responsibility for this announcement. This is the Army's effort. Here we have a page of the Manchester Guardian devoted to a huge photograph of an atomic bomb explosion, and the next thing that the Government expect is a rush of recruits. I have never been able to see the sense of it. I know that the Secretary of State for Air is rather prejudiced in favour of the Navy, because last year he was at the Dispatch Box presenting the Navy Estimates, but I do not think that he is prejudiced in favour of the Army. I hope that he will agree with me when I say that this advertisement represents a colossal waste of money and is not calculated to bring in recruits.
When the potential recruit reads the words,Play a leading part in keeping world peace,he will ask himself, "Is this what I am supposed to do? What sort of mass murder am Ito be called upon to assist?" If this is the sort of recruiting effort that the Government are forced to make, they must be short of intelligent reasons for asking men to join the Royal Air Force.
I do not want anybody to join the Royal Air Force, the Auxiliary Air Force or any professional or amateur air force. I do not want to spend large sums of money on the Air Force. I disagree with the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir P. Macdonald), and I cannot understand the argument of my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), with whom I am often in agreement. If we urge upon the Government that we want economies and the Government say, "Very well, we abolish the Auxiliary Air Force", I encourage them, because if they start by abolishing that force I want to know the reasons for the existence of the other Air Force.
625 I have listened patiently to all the debates on this subject in an effort to find some real justification for the Air Force in the days of the rocket. I used to ask the same question of the Secretary of State when he was a back bencher. He first astonished me when I asked him how a fighter stopped a rocket, and I was grateful for his influential support. Although, the right hon. Gentleman is now on the Front Bench to answer today, he has not answered that question yet, and rockets have greatly improved since those days. The Americans say that the Russians have a rocket which hits its target at 1,500 miles, and they talk in terms of these rockets with nuclear warheads descending upon the American continent.
§ Mr. K. Zilliacus (Manchester, Gorton)
The Minister of Defence spoke on 13th February of rockets, with nuclear warheads, travelling at 5,000 miles an hour 100 miles up, as being already in existence.
§ Mr. Hughes
That may well be, but I am not quite prepared to accept the Minister of Defence yet as an authoritative witness. It is rather too soon since his taking over of the job.
That brings me to the prospect of a rocket range in South Uist. What would the hon. Member for the Isle of Wight, with his enthusiasm for the Air Force, say if they took that range to the Isle of Wight?
§ Mr. Hughes
If there is one already in the Isle of Wight, what need is there to duplicate it? Will the range in the Isle of Wight employ 3,000? Perhaps the hon. Member will tell us what it costs.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
I am not responsible for its construction, but we have facilities for firing rockets in the Isle of Wight now under construction. We do not complain as the people of Uist are doing. We recognise that the country must be defended.
§ Mr. Hughes
Then the answer is to develop the rocket range in the Isle of Wight. Why go to the trouble of annoying people in the Western Isles when there is a volunteer here for the rocket range? My hon. Friend the Member for 626 the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) will be delighted to hand over the rocket range to the hon. Member. He is the most patriotic Member who has addressed the Committee on this subject for a long time. He should line up with the Scottish Nationalists who are trying to change the Minister's mind.
I return to the question of the rocket range in the Isle of Uist. I do not believe that there is an argument for its being there at all, because if these missiles are capable of travelling at 5,000 miles an hour, there is not much point in having the range in the West of Scotland, since the time that a rocket would take to cross Scotland can be stated in seconds.
I am glad to see the Minister of Defence just coming into the Chamber, because I think he has an open mind on this subject. Here is a splendid opportunity for the Minister, who is engaged on economies, to eliminate the rocket range before it begins to operate. From every point of view—the strategic, the economic—and every kind of reasoning, I fail to see why this rocket range should be planted down in the island of South Uist against the wish of the local population.
The hon. Member for the Western Isles made some strong points which I want to emphasise. Are the islanders not reasonable in demanding a public inquiry? Surely that is reasonable since we are not living in totalitarian Russia. I know a little about public inquiries. I remember that when I was a member of a local authority we wanted to acquire land in the area, not for a rocket range, but for a housing scheme. The local landlord objected and so there was a public inquiry. We stated our case for the housing scheme and the landlord objected in his interests. All I am suggesting is that if we needed to have a public inquiry before a local authority could get land for housing, there should be a public inquiry before the Air Ministry gets control of South Uist. I have had some experience through that public inquiry to which I have referred, which was a successful one, and I should be pleased to help the islanders in this public inquiry, if necessary.
What else do the islanders want? They want a plebiscite. Surely that is democratic. We want free elections in Germany and we are prepared to go to 627 war on Eastern Germany's right to vote about its future. Well, is it not right that if we make that demand for Germany, the crofters in the Island of South Uist should be allowed to have a plebiscite to decide the future there?
What will be the argument? What will be said to these islanders? They will be told, "We need this project to prevent the invasion and occupation of this country by the Russians". But the occupation of South Uist, and the invasion, has already begun—by the Ministry. The Ministry officials have been there. They have made their survey, although the Minister does not seem to know anything about it, and I hope he will refresh his memory. A considerable amount of public money has been spent, and it is ending the Western way of life in the Western Hebrides.
§ Mr. Hughes
Certainly, if an army of occupation is planted down on a community that does not want it, that constitutes invasion. The Western Isles have their own ideas about the Sabbath, although to some people they may be antiquated and out of date, and their way of life will be interfered with.
The hon. Member for the Western Isles talked about the possibility of the Government treating this popular uprising severely and sending its leader to the Seychelles. [Laughter.] Of course the Government are used to handling clerics in this way. It is another part of the Western way of life. Imagine the position if Father John Morrison of South Uist were sent to the Seychelles. What an interesting conversation there would be. [An HON. MEMBER: "A united front."] He would be asked who were the terrorists, and the conclusion would be reached that the Air Ministry had come down as an army of occupation and was there despite the protests of the islanders.
I made an interjection to the effect that when this range is sanctioned, and if a proposal comes in any tangible form before the House to spend a large sum of money on this project, I shall naturally vote against it. But how much has it cost? This is the obscene and indecent question which I always ask in Estimates debates, and I never get an answer. I am 628 told that it is not in the interests of public security. I still do not know the cost of a helicopter. We did not hear what was the cost of a bomber——
§ Mr. Hughes
The hon. Gentleman is right, it is a deuce of a lot. I am glad that I am carrying him with me. The first time that we heard that a bomber cost £400,000 was when an hon. Member who was a Minister in the Labour Government came over to this side of the House, and the fact leaked out. For the first time we learned that a bomber cost between £400,000 and £500,000, and at that I am under-estimating.
Here we are to spend £½ million on a bomber which is to be flown by a pilot whom it costs £45,000 to train. We are asked to base our entire air strategy on the building of this fighting force. I do not believe in it. I never have believed in it. The result of building up a fighting force is that the other fellow does the same thing. So we cancel each other out. Nobody is talking so cockily these days about dictating to the Russians through strength, because the Russians not only have a large number of aeroplanes, they are not only possibly leading the way in respect of inter-continental ballistic missiles, but they have a highly trained technological generation coming along.
The right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) told us two years ago that we were ten years behind the Russians. Now the Russians have a highly trained generation of engineers, technicians and specialists who are quite as capable of manufacturing all these devices as anybody in the West. There is no sign that we are winning the arms race. There is every sign that we shall lose it. So I say that we should make up our minds and, instead of wasting enormous sums of money by changing over from bombers to rockets, we should call a halt.
Since we first debated the cost of these bombers ten years ago we have spent a colossal sum on aeroplanes which have never gone into the air. During the meetings of the Select Committee on Estimates the figure of £180 million was given. Consider what that represents in labour, raw material and technical skill. If all the money which we have put into the Royal Air Force and into bombers had 629 been put into civilian aircraft we should today be leading the world instead of being forced to pay valuable dollars to buy Transatlantic aircraft from America.
I am afraid that this waste of money will not be stopped but will be transferred to guided missiles. I hope that the Government will revise their whole policy. There is nothing to be gained either economically or from the point of view of security from this vast expenditure, and the time has come to call a halt. I do not expect the Government suddenly to become pacifist, because pacifism is about ten, fifteen or twenty years ahead, but I expect them to think of the economic condition of the country and to be able to justify every item of expenditure.
I hope that in replying to the questions put to him about the rocket range the Minister will tell us what it will cost. Surely that is a reasonable question. Before we embark on a large expenditure of public money we should have some approximate estimate of what the cost will be. When I put the question to the Minister of Supply, who was at the intallation of one of the rocket ranges, he refused to answer it, on the ground that he could not disclose the information for reasons of public security. I asked about the cost of putting the rocket range in Aberporth in Cardiganshire and I received the same answer.
We shall not be told the cost of these things because we shall be told that it is not in the interests of public security to disclose it. I hope that the Minister will make an effort to tell us the approximate cost. We do not want any details. If the enemy want to know anything about the rocket range in the Western Isles they should not find it difficult to find out, because so much publicity has been given that the geographical situation can be found from the Scotsman.
I suggest that before we embark on this kind of expenditure we should be told whether it will cost £10 million or £12 million or whether it will cost less, because at the same time as we embark on this huge expenditure we are ruthlessly cutting down on housing and on the social services of the island. This money could be a much better national investment if it were spent not on the rocket range but on land reclamation, on roads, on housing, and on the other things which the island needs.
630 This step towards a policy of using rockets is expensive and unjustifiable from the point of view of national interest, and the Minister should be prepared to reconsider this project. There should be a public inquiry. We should have not only the local geographical details but some case put forward by the Government to justify the expenditure and to answer the question: why is this expenditure necessary, and will it advance the security of the country?
I must confess that I did not follow my hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles when he described the weird collection of Scottish Nationalists who were assembled on the platform. It was very entertaining; I meet so many conventional politicians in this part of the world that meeting a few weird people is a change. It brings one into touch with reality. Although I am not a Scottish Nationalist, I should welcome any assistance from any organisation which was prepared to ask the Government awkward questions about this project.
I ask that, instead of being given the official verbiage, we should have a definite assurance that there will be a public inquiry in South Uist. If the Government are so sure of their ground and so sure that they can justify the expenditure on this rocket range, they ought not to shirk a public inquiry, and they ought to state their case there.
§ 8.35 p.m.
§ Dr. A. D. D. Broughton (Batley and Morley)
As there is little time left, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Emrys Hughes) will forgive me if I do not follow him in all his arguments about the rocket range in the Western Isles. He knows that he and I do not see eye to eye on matters of defence policy, and I wish to put forward, for the consideration of the Under-Secretary, who is to reply to the debate, a few observations of my own about air defence, and to put some questions to him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) opened his speech by remarking that the Secretary of State for Air had given us very little information today. The speech that we heard from the Secretary of State was remarkably brief, coming from a Minister who had come to this Committee asking for 631 a large sum of money to cover the expenses of the Royal Air Force. It may be that the Minister was placed in some difficulty because he could not give us the details which we should like to have, and which, in previous years, we have received, because the Royal Air Force and the other Armed Forces of the Crown are now undergoing rapid change.
I should like to refer to a very interesting speech made in the House on 13th February by the Minister of Defence. It was remarkable, and I congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on his very clear thinking and on the manner in which he faced the facts of the present day situation. That speech of the Minister of Defence may be said to be a watershed in defence policy, and, henceforth, we shall pursue a different course towards the solution of our problems.
The Minister of Defence then explained that we must face the fact that our air defences are weak. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Ayrshire has reminded us today, there is no defence against an attack on our islands by rockets. The fighter planes that we have, and we have some really excellent ones, cannot shoot down rockets, and our fighter defences cannot give us immunity against attacks by enemy bombers. We saw in the last war that a number of enemy bombers were able to get through our defences, and if there were to be a war in the future, fighting against a great Power, a few enemy bombers getting through our defences and dropping on this country atomic bombs or hydrogen bombs, would cause great devastation.
The policy that has been adopted now is to prevent aggression by means of deterrents, and the deterrent that we have today, I understand, is a very good one—the V-bomber carrying atomic bombs. In a few years we may expect to have rockets carrying atom bomb or hydrogen bomb warheads. At this time, when these changes in the country's defence policy are taking place, we wonder, as the Secretary of State for Air remarked, what the future rôle of the Royal Air Force will be.
It is certainly difficult to see that rôle in every detail, but I agree with the Secretary of State that the Royal Air Force will continue to play a key rôle. I believe that we shall need fighter air- 632 craft. We will need them to protect our bombers and to protect our country and the territories we are defending against attacks by bombers and enemy fighters, although, as I have just said, we cannot expect complete immunity.
We shall require bombers because, however efficient and numerous rockets may become, it would be unwise to rely on them alone. We should have bombers which may also be required for small local wars in different parts of the world and what is usually described as police action in territories overseas. Aircraft flown by pilots and carrying crews will in the foreseeable future he required for flying over enemy territory with photographic apparatus to bring back information about enemy formations and about the results of attacks which our forces may have made. When rockets and guided missiles come along, the Royal Air Force will have to accept responsibility for their care, maintenance and operation in the event of war.
Among the changes in defence one which will soon come about is not merely the close co-operation of the three Services, but their integration. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary is in a position to tell us anything about that. Have the Government a policy in mind for the integration of the three Services? I noticed, when the Secretary of State for Air was speaking, that sitting on the Government Front Bench were the Minister of Defence, the Secretary of State for War and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty. They also listened to a number of subsequent speeches. It is clear that in future the defence of this country must be planned as a whole and that the three Services must work very closely together. I was pleased that the Prime Minister should have announced his policy of giving greatly increased power to the Minister of Defence, and I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us something about the possibility of integration in the Services.
I wonder how much longer we are going to conduct our debates upon the Service Estimates as we now do. A few days ago we were debating the Navy Estimates; today we have the Air Estimates, and on Monday we shall be discussing the Army Estimates. The time may not be far ahead when, instead of 633 debating the three Services separately, the House will have a two-day debate on Defence Estimates.
Can the Minister tell us anything about any lessons that were learned from the Suez operation? We all admire the skill and courage of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who were in action then, but "Operation Musketeer," as it was called, was mismanaged, because out-of-date methods of warfare were employed. No doubt the hon. Member will have read the article by Mr. Liddell Hart in the Observer of 24th February. Many of us were unhappy about the manner in which those operations were conducted. In this debate I do not wish to discuss the policy of the Suez operation, but from the point of view of a military operation there has been a good deal of criticism, and I should like the Minister to say whether any lessons have been learned which affect the Royal Air Force.
The Under-Secretary will not expect me to make a speech upon the Air Estimates without some reference to the Medical Branch, in which I had the honour to serve during the last war. Is he satisfied with the progress being made in aviation medicine? Nowadays, aircraft fly at such tremendous speeds and at such great heights, and have such a rapid rate of acceleration, that many stresses and strains fall upon the minds and bodies of the pilots. I should like to know whether the Minister feels that those experts who are carrying out research work in aviation medicine are keeping pace with technical developments in flying.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Royal Air Force station at Farnborough a short time ago, and I am very grateful for having been allowed to go there and see the work that is being done. I was very favourably impressed. I had been to Farnborough previously—as long ago as 1941, when I was a serving officer—and I was surprised and pleased to see what enormous changes had taken place since them. There was a bigger staff and much more apparatus, and they had the opportunity to do some very good work.
I thought that they had an excellent team of physiologists at Farnborough, but I wonder whether quite enough attention is being paid to the psychological problems peculiar to flying. In previous Air debates the Minister has been good enough, in answer to my questions, to 634 pay tribute to the work of the Medical Branch of the Royal Air Force. If the Minister feels able to pay such a tribute tonight it would be much appreciated by all who serve in that branch.
I take this opportunity of thanking the Minister and his predecessors for having allowed me to visit Air Force stations in this country and on the Continent upon a number of occasions. It has been extremely interesting. I have learned a great deal by visiting those stations and it has been a pleasure to me to meet the personnel serving there. I have been most impressed by the efficiency of the Royal Air Force and by the very high morale that there is throughout the Service. I think that it should go out not just from the Minister, but from back benches and the Committee as a whole, that we greatly value the services of all the personnel in the Royal Air Force and appreciate the vitally important duties which they undertake in the defence of our country.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Wedgwood Benn (Bristol, South-East)
I ask the indulgence of the Committee on this occasion, the first on which I have spoken from the Front Bench. If I might confide for a moment to the Committee the feelings I had as I sat here waiting to be called, I must say that my first impression is that, probably as a result of the shape of the Chamber, we down in the valley have a very different sense of climate.
If I may refer to the rocky slopes behind, I would say that I find the air there exhilarating, but down in this valley there is a sickly smell which, I think, must come from the mouldering fruits of office on the other side of the Committee. I felt as I sat back that I could almost hear the bubbling of the water as it passed smoothly through the usual channels.
I felt, as Adam and Eve must have done in the Garden of Eden, tempted to taste the apple of bi-partisanship, but I shall resist any of those temptations except just for this one, and that is to congratulate the Under-Secretary of State for Air, who is to speak next, on his first appearance on the Front Bench during a debate on the Air Estimates, and to wish him what I wish genuinely for myself—a quick return to the windy heights of the Opposition back benches.
635 I wish to say just one word about my hon. Friend the Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas), who opened the debate for the Opposition. He was, unfortunately, not at all well. He had a very bad attack of influenza and he had had a cholera injection. I know that he would wish me to explain why he has not been able to be here for the rest of the debate.
This has been, as is frequently the case in these debates, an occasion when a number of detailed points have been raised, and I do not propose to go over those which have been discussed by my hon. Friends and others, or, indeed, to add many detailed points myself. However, I should like in one or two respects to make comments on those details. First, I think it must be a subject of congratulation that the recruiting figures have improved since the new pay codes were introduced. We are as anxious as is the Minister to get the Air Force on a long-service Regular basis. Naturally, we are pleased when we notice that this tendency appears.
There are one or two points in connection with manpower and personnel which I should like to mention briefly, although I dare say that the Under-Secretary will not be able to deal with them all this evening. I almost hesitate to do it, but I should like to refer for a moment to the piece of paper which is actually the occasion of this debate.
Nobody, so far, has mentioned the Supplementary Estimate, 1956–57, which we have before us. I notice that there is a saving here of about £50,000 on "Miscellaneous educational services" and, remembering the speech the then Under-Secretary made in the debate on last year's Estimates, in which he said he thought that the Air Ministry was intolerably stingy in its educational allowances, I shall be interested to hear him defend this extra cut which is put before us.
Then there is the question of married quarters. If there is any information about the 5,000 married quarters which were being constructed last year, I should like to hear it. I should like to know whether they have been completed and if there is any further information about future building.
§ Mr. Benn
I withdraw unreservedly anything I said. The Committee is more than generous to those who make mistakes and withdraw. It sometimes pays to make mistakes so as to get the little round of cheering when one withdraws. However, there were one or two other questions I wanted to ask.
We are always told by Air Ministers about the great care they take at getting committees of inquiry set up to investigate different aspects of Air Force work. I am sure that this is the best Department for this. For instance, an air vice-marshal is doing work study, which would be unheard of in any other Department. We lack information about the results of these inquiries. No security question can enter into these matters.
There is, for example, the Manpower Utilisation Committee, which was recasting the structure of the technical and administrative wings of some stations. This is the sort of point where, without prejudice to security, the Opposition could be given proper information, and all back benchers could make useful suggestions. There is, for example, the Hollinghurst Report on Servicing which, so far as I know, has never been published and, therefore, it is very difficult to speak on it.
There are one or two small points I would like to put forward, although here I do not expect an immediate answer. When is the Victor to be in service? We are told that the Victor is a great deterrent-carrying weapon. We know there have been further delays with it. It was expected to be in service last year; is it to be in squadron service this year? I would like to ask the old, old question about the guns of the Hunter. Perhaps we shall have an answer to it. It is a very difficult question.
§ Mr. Burden
If the hon. Member takes such an interest in Air Force matters he 637 should know that the Minister stated about three months ago that the Hunter was now completely clear for firing and could fire at any height.
§ Mr. Benn
That has been stated so often before that it is difficult for hon. Members to know the facts. What is quite clear is that the problem of failure of the engine during the firing of the guns has been settled. The question is whether the prolonged firing of these 30 mm. guns weakens the air frame of the aircraft. I would like to have an answer on this point. When all these small points have been dealt with, there remains a general feeling, to which a number of back benchers have referred, that this kind of debate cannot be altogether satisfactory because of lack of information.
We are voting £240 million on account, which represents just under half of what would be required for the current year. I have no doubt at all that military correspondents have easier access to information than hon. Members have, and I suppose that the best complete account of the R.A.F. that is available in this country today is in the Soviet Embassy. I will refer to this matter again in a moment, except to say now that I have not gone to get my information there, though I have no doubt at all that the Soviet air attaché would know a great deal more about it than do some hon. and gallant Gentlemen who work in the aircraft companies, or have associations with them and ought, therefore, to have particular knowledge and interest in the matter. This is something that we ought to consider as a constitutional and a security problem.
If Parliament is simply a coroner's court which examines the reports of various Select Committees aster the mistakes have been made, it is clear that it is not able to do its job. There have been recent reports, to which I do not propose to refer in detail, about the ordering of aircraft. There was a report, published only two days ago, about the Swift and which gave us reason to doubt whether Parliament is able to do a proper job in this matter.
Up to now, hon. Members on both sides—I admit that this is something of an Opposition-Government argument. A lot of our arguments, when we take 638 the politics out of them, are Opposition versus Government arguments, and I sometimes think that a guillotine HANSARD could be printed the reverse way, according to which party is in power. When we have stripped that element from it, it is true to say that security ought to be re-examined in the light of the current situation. I tried in an intervention to put this, although perhaps not very satisfactorily.
The object of security in the old advertisements we had in the war, such as, "Be like Dad, keep Mum" was designed to conceal our power from the enemy so that it would be available as a surprise in order to defeat him in the war. In fact, the object of the military exercise we are now engaged in is quite different from that. The arrival of the atom bomb and the V-bomber has created what we all now recognise is an atomic stalemate. Our policy is based on this deadlock in coexistence and our defence policy is based on it.
I really think that we ought to reinterpret security in the light of this new policy, based on the deterrent, in which, of course, in present circumstances our object is to reveal to the enemy our strength so as to avoid the necessity of defeating him in war by deterring him from starting at all.
I know that this is not as simple as it sounds, but President Eisenhower—a very experienced military man—came out 18 months ago with the "Open Skies" proposal, which is what one might call an anti-security move designed to strengthen the deterrent by informing both sides of the military potential of the other. So far as I am concerned, the more information about our Services, if they are working properly, that is now in the hands of the Soviet Embassy, the more likely is the deterrent to work. I hope that the Service Ministers will take a little more intelligent view of this, so that we can have more intelligent details.
At any rate, whether we are told the detailed information or not, those who take part in debates must try to think of the future of the Royal Air Force as best we can. One thing which has emerged in these defence debates is the simple, obvious fact that the provision of modern, highly-complicated aircraft, 639 and more particularly missiles in preparation for the defence of a country at any particular moment, may rest on decisions taken ten years previously. I do not think any of my hon. Friends, when points have been raised about a decision not to have manned supersonic tests immediately after the war, have tried to dodge the issue. That is the problem which confronts us all: how, in some cases, we can reduce the period of development and, in all cases, reach a right decision earlier.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
The hon. Member has suggested that there should be complete frankness by the Service Departments in disclosing the exact state of readiness and perfection of the various departments of the fighting Services. Surely, if we follow that argument, and there is a weakness, it must be disclosed. Surely the fact that we do not disclose more than is absolutely necessary about the fighting Services does confuse a possible enemy as to whether we are completely efficient in one department, or whether we are backward or ready completely in every department.
§ Mr. Benn
I am extremely grateful to the hon. Member. I promise him that that little extract will be printed at Transport House tomorrow and circulated to Election candidates, so that they may know, from the mouth of a Conservative, that this information is not available, that after spending £7,000 million and after having seven Ministers of Defence, there is a weakness in our defences. I was trying not to point the fact that we had suspected—although I deliberately did not say it, because I wanted to put the case on general principles—that a certain weakness does underlie the decision to give virtually no information.
§ Mr. Williams
If I thought the hon. Member understood the facts, I would say that he was dishonest and no doubt I would be ruled out of order, but I say that the reason why no disclosure is made about the exact state of readiness is to ensure that if there is any weakness anywhere is should not be disclosed. That is a paramount principle of the fighting Services, and has been for the last thirty years.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Member is so anxious to insult me that he falls over 640 his own feet. I was not suggesting that whenever an aircraft goes out of service at a V-bomber station we should have a Private Notice Question and an Answer from the Minister. What I am saying is that if there is a weakness—and I believe that there is now—in the defence of the country the only way to remedy it is to provide sufficient information in the House of Commons to bring influence to bear.
If the hon. Member thinks that the House of Commons has nothing to contribute, I cannot understand why he should choose to come here. Traditionally, House of Commons debates on defence have played a part. Indeed, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) would certainly not have made much progress in the inter-war years if he had followed the advice of his new hon. Friend. Nor would the Minister of Defence have done so.
§ Mr. Williams
It enabled my right hon. Friend the Member for Woodford (Sir W. Churchill) to say of the hon. Gentleman's right hon. Friend the Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan) that the most mischievous critic in war had proved himself to be the most incompetent administrator in peace.
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Member has become so muddled now that he is taking me from the theme of my argument, which I hoped was a reasonable one. I will try to command the hon. Gentleman's support for this proposition, which is that just as decisions taken in 1946 and 1947 conditioned the shape of the Royal Air Force as we have it today, so the Royal Air Force and air power in 1967–70 will be conditioned by decisions which are being taken now.
I propose to pose questions about the decisions that must surely be under consideration at present. To do so, I think it necessary—I am sure the Committee will agree—to reduce the variables in all this to the absolute minimum. If one is to talk about the Services in ten years' time, as I propose to do, one must assume that the political conditions in the world remain the same and that the technical advance which we know to be in the offing becomes to a certain extent realised. I am not by any means scientifically trained, but since the Society of British Aircraft Constructors has today issued a statement saying that the industry 641 is producing the inter-continental ballistic missile, or has it under development, I imagine that one must assume that in ten years' time that will, at any rate, be within range of being in operational use. There are all sorts of other possibilities of defensive missiles which I imagine are much closer.
I want to try to fit our defence policy into this picture to see how far ahead we should decide to go with missiles now and how far we should continue with our present manned aircraft. I would merely say that, whether we like it or not, I believe there is a sort of anti-Gresham's Law about defence, that good weapons drive out bad weapons, and that it is a question not of whether we want to go on with something else, but whether we can avoid going on with something else when a better weapon is produced.
Time and again in the House the Prime Minister has said, in effect, in answer to Questions—it has been said by others, and is, in general, agreed by the Opposition—that if the hydrogen bomb exists, this country must have it. We must, therefore, base our policy on the assumption that as these missiles are developed by other countries there must be a recasting of our defence programme.
I was very shocked when I heard the Secretary of State say that his view was that all that was changing was the weapons, but that it did not really make much difference otherwise to the structure of the force. If I have done him an injustice, I apologise. However, it reminded me of the story current before the war about the Army Council issuing an amendment to the cavalry regulations on the introduction of armoured cars, in which it was supposed to have said that the substitution of "armoured car" for "horse" would be all that was required, at any rate in the short run. Someone commented that he imagined that, after a long gallop, one gave the armoured car two lumps of sugar and clapped it on the flank.
In my view—this is the basis of my argument—as these weapons change, it means a change in the character of the problem and a change in the type of policy required. I am bending over backwards to be fair to the Government about this, and I merely propose to try to interpret the four defence rôles given in the 642 White Paper on Defence, in 1946, and see how far they can be met in the new circumstances which I am describing.
The Defence White Paper lists four functions: the deterrent, the cold war garrisoning function, the limited war and, finally, the global war. For myself, I think that this is an unnecessarily complicated way of putting it, because in general it could be recast as two tasks: first, the task of defending Britain in Europe; and, secondly, the exercising of our overseas responsibilities.
Certainly, the deterrent, tactical defence in Europe, and the actual use of the hydrogen bomb in a global war all represent problems associated with immediate self-defence, and I want, very hesitantly, to enter into the realms of actual possibilities in considering the rôle of the R.A.F. in the event of a war in Europe; because there is a tendency nowadays just to say "Deterrent", and then people lean back into their comfortable seats and the Minister goes on to catering problems in the Chipping Sodbury catering station.
That is not good enough because, as I understand, if war comes, the attack in Europe will come in one of three ways, and I want to show that it is bound to finish with the use of the deterrent. I will put it in the interrogative form. Supposing there is an attack by conventional Soviet forces using conventional weapons and non-nuclear power against us in Europe, is it the view of the Secretary of State that we would respond in kind, without using atomic weapons?
I am genuinely asking this. I am sure that the answer will be—I do not know how it can be anything else—"We could not allow the Soviet Union to win a conventional war with conventional weapons and not, at that moment, agree to use greater weapons to defend ourselves." There is no question that if the 500 Soviet submarines really did start work—even without any atomic bombs being dropped—on our shipping in the Atlantic, we should be compelled to use, in the first instance, at least, tactical atomic weapons to defend ourselves.
Then we come to the second stage of the operation, which is, presumably, an exchange of tactical atomic weapons. The question arises here in exactly the same way as it has arisen in the first case: are we content to allow the Soviet Union to win with tactical atomic 643 weapons, supposing it reaches the point where they are actually on the point of winning? Perhaps I should put it another way. Would the Soviet Union be willing to allow the West to win a victory with purely tactical atomic weapons? No. Exactly as in the last case would there be a move to a higher range of force, so, in this case, would there be an exchange of fire by tactical atomic weapons.
I believe that once an operation begins, once any fighting begins in Europe—except, perhaps, for struggles between the two military police forces in Berlin, something so limited that it does not become serious—any war that develops in Europe is bound to lead to the use of the deterrent. This is a view which I know the hon. and gallant Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey) does not share, and a view about which, I think the Government are slightly confused.
The suggestion is entering into our defence planning that a graduated deterrent is possible in some way, to limit a war either to one of purely conventional weapons—although in a few years there will be no conventional weapons left—or to a tactical exchange.
Vice-Admiral John Hughes Hallett (Croydon, North-East)
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that the aims for which a war is being fought would be one of the decisive factors as to whether or not we engaged in world-wide destruction?
§ Air Commodore Harvey
The hon. Gentleman did quote me, and I am sure that he wants to be fair. The point I was trying to make was that I did not think that the country ought to be devoid of conventional weapons in the immediate future.
§ Mr. Benn
I am not dealing with this at the moment, because even assuming 644 that, for the purpose of the argument, I did agree with the hon. and gallant Gentleman, it does not alter my view on whether the possession of conventional weapons would save one from the use of the deterrent once the war began.
If we get from our early warning system a message that aircraft or rockets are on their way, it is an early warning system—but an early warning system of what? One does not know what is coming. One does not know whether the Russians are playing the conventional game or the tactical atomic game, whether these things are going for our airfields in East Anglia or heading for London with the hydrogen bomb. I submit that the only intelligent decision for a Cabinet to take, if it were available in such a short time to take it. if it heard that Soviet rockets or V-bombers were on the way, would be to get our own V-bomber force off the ground, armed with hydrogen weapons in case it were necessary to use them. These are the sort of matters to be considered, and these are the sort of discussions which ought to take place in our defence debates. No doubt the Government are privately considering them, but neither the public nor the House of Commons is being informed of the Government's thinking upon them.
Turning to the overseas responsibility, some people would say that here we shall always need aircraft, and the slower the better, "for chasing the Wogs", or whatever it may be. In fact, we find that the most likely areas for a limited war overseas are those where one or other of the great Powers is itself providing arms. Of course, the great Powers are not fools in this; they use their supply of arms to countries partly as a way of buying support and partly as a way of getting rid of their own obsolete and obsolescent weapons.
If the great Powers are devoting themselves increasingly, as they must to this end, in ten or fifteen years we shall get the first generation of obsolescent missiles in the hands of those who might be involved in limited war. Therefore, I strongly doubt whether it will be possible even in areas overseas in the long run to avoid the same sort of weapons, even if the hydrogen warhead is not used, as are likely to confront us in any war in Europe.
645 Whether we like it or not, we are on an escalator which, in terms of weapons, leads to the hydrogen bomb, and, in terms of delivery, leads to the intercontinental ballistic missile. We shall always have aircraft, transport aircraft, helicopters, and all that; but the real problem is the problem of deciding, in 1957, what sort of Air Force we shall have in 1967 and 1970. Of that, we have had absolutely nothing from the Government today, although I hope that the Under-Secretary will say something about it when he replies.
What is the balance of aircraft against missiles? What about the flow of men? We have heard a little about that. What about launching sites for these missiles? Is it really necessary to have the Navy using big ships to fire them? Can one not put a missile in an aircraft, take it to the Sahara, fire it, and then fly back again? Is it really necessary to have fixed bases for the sort of missiles we have in mind? How mobile is it all to be?
I would say that the problem confronting us today is not what is to be done with the Royal Air Force in its present form, but how can the Royal Air Force adapt itself to the problems of air power. I was very proud to serve in it, and I believe that it is the Service which is the most likely of the three to meet the needs of air power. Of course, we should all be very sorry if the piloted plane went out. There was something in the chivalry, independence, and courage of the fighter pilots which excites my imagination as much now as it did when I was a schoolboy in the early years of the war, when one thought of the fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain and those who were going nightly over Germany.
But there is in the Royal Air Force a respect for the technicians which I do not believe one finds to quite the same extent in any other Service. After all, the pilot is entirely at the mercy of the fitter who stays up all night in the cold to do his check on the engine; his life is in the fitter's hands and, even more, perhaps, in the hands of the parachute packer who folds the silk properly and thereby ensures that the pilot is safe should he have to bale out. There is something in the tradition of the Royal 646 Air Force which, I think, makes it possible for this Service to be adapted to this general task.
It is sometimes argued that if one talks too much about missiles one affects the morale of the Service and the recruitment of pilots. I doubt whether that is really altogether true. In my view, the only way to attract a man to anything, whether to a political point of view, to a Service or to anything else, is to show him that the thing to which one wants to attract him is second to none. An Air Force which was still flying aircraft—if it was—after aircraft had ceased to be the real defence for this country, or the real offensive weapon, would be trying to attract people to do something which was perhaps glamorous and exciting, but which was basically second-rate and not up to the job. The Secretary of State for Air is not as courageous as he might be—although he did say something about this —in suggesting that we want a rapid or more rapid switch to missiles.
I apologise for my inexperience in addressing the Committee on this difficult and important matter, but, as a final word, I should like to say that it would be impossible to talk of air power, even in a Service Estimate debate, only in terms of its destructive use. After all, we have talked of ultimate weapons—as Lord Keynes has reminded us, in the long run we are all dead anyway—but in the Air Force properly used, and in air power properly used, we have an opportunity for control of weapons, whether by the Eisenhower "Open Skies" proposal or by some other way. We have perhaps the best opportunity for mankind to assert his own destiny and his own desires for peace over large areas of the world.
Having long since left the Air Force, I still find that the most exciting place in the country is an air terminal building, where one is reminded by the announcements that come over the loudspeaker that it is possible for somebody to be talking to someone in London today and for one to be in Tokyo and the other in Washington tomorrow. Unless we can, somehow—this is a foreign policy question—bring people together by means of the air we shall be betraying the great potentialities that have been given to us in this century by the scientists.
§ 9.22 p.m.
The Under-Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing)
Like the hon. Member for Bristol, South-East (Mr. Benn), I am now making my first speech from the Dispatch Box, and I hope that the Committee will show me the same generosity as he hoped for. It is fortunate that although the microphone may amplify one's voice, it does not appear to amplify the butterflies that flap in one's stomach.
Like many other speakers in the debate, I have listened to the Air Estimates debates over a period of about seven years. They are always conducted in a spirit of non-party co-operation. It is quite clear from everything that we have heard today that that same spirit has prevailed on this occasion. Members have spoken, not from a desire to gain political kudos, but from a deep desire to see that our defences and the Royal Air Force are equipped for the future.
I must apologise for taking perhaps a long time, but we had within our general debate, as it were, two small Adjournment debates. There was the question of the Western Isles, for which I need time to reply in detail, and there was the question, raised by the hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Beswick), of the auxiliaries, which equally deserves several minutes' attention in this winding-up speech.
I think that the whole Committee immensely enjoyed the account given by the hon. Member for the Western Isles (Mr. M. MacMillan) of the Monday evening meeting. It is rather strange that that meeting took place in a hall constructed by the Royal Air Force near Benbecula aerodrome. In fact, the meeting could not have taken place if the Royal Air Force had not been there.
One of the early questions that the hon. Member asked was whether we had looked elsewhere for a rocket site. We most certainly have. The difficulty is that there are exacting criteria which eventually compelled us to come to this site. First, we needed a level strip of land several miles long and about a mile wide for the range head. Secondly, we needed a considerable sea area free from intensive shipping and containing an island which could be used as a radar plotting station. Thirdly, we needed to have high land flanking and behind the range on 648 which we could site the radar station, and, fourthly and very important, we needed to have a suitable airfield within reasonable distance.
Our search was very quickly narrowed down, for certain large areas, for example, the south and east coasts of England, the Welsh coast and parts of the east coast of Scotland were clearly hopeless from the beginning. We considered other sites in the Shetlands, the Orkneys and elsewhere in the Hebrides, but it gradually became clear that the South Uist site was the only one that would meet our needs.
This question of the rocket range has also been raised by other hon. Members. I would like to go over the details, which are important, particularly to the Scottish people, because many reports in the Press and elsewhere have been far from accurate. Preliminary surveys of land and consultation with local interests, in which the Air Ministry was assisted and advised by the Department of Agriculture for Scotland, went on in the summer and autumn of 1955 and the early months of 1956. In June and July of last year, the Air Ministry formally communicated to the Department of Health for Scotland the proposals for the main elements of the range—the range head on South Uist, the extension of the airfield on Benbecula, and the building of the new airstrip on North Uist.
The Department of Health for Scotland followed the prescribed procedure, as it has done all along. It sent details to the local authorities and the appropriate Scottish Departments, and bodies such as the Crofter Commission and the Advisory Panel on the Highlands and Islands. The special interests of amenity, of archaeology and nature conservancy were also consulted. All these bodies considered the Air Ministry's proposals during the summer and autumn of 1956.
The Inverness County Council said it had no objection in principle, but asked for further consultations on certain detailed points. Some of these consultations have taken place and others will be arranged in due course. The district councils which the hon. Member for the Western Isles mentioned, the Highland Panel and Crofter Commission, the National Trust for Scotland, and the Association for the Preservation of Rural Scotland raised no objections. No objection was raised by any public body in North Uist, South Uist or Benbecula.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Did the Ministry advertise in any local papers that a public inquiry would be held to give ordinary people, the crofters, an opportunity to abject?
I am describing the procedure laid down in the 1947 White Paper for when we want to carry out a project of this kind. I shall come in a moment to the question of private interests.
Accordingly, in November, the Government having carried out the procedure laid down in the White Paper, decided to proceed. Numerous conditions have, however, been attached to the planning clearance. Some concern the agricultural interest and in fact lay upon the Air Ministry responsibility for consulting the Department of Agriculture for Scotland on all work that will affect agricultural land. It was reported in the Press at the time that planning clearance had been given.
So much for consultation with what I may describe as public bodies. As to private interests affected, there have from the start been frequent consultations with owners' agents, the crafting townships, and many individual crofters. Ministers have twice met local representatives and discussed plans with them. Before formal planning clearance was sought, the Ministry's officials called on all crofters whose land would be affected and described the proposals to them. It is possible that one or two individuals may have been away, either sick or on holiday, but otherwise all the crofters were personally seen and had the plans explained to them. Over a period of many months there has been a degree of consultation which gave those affected every chance to declare their views.
As to some of the more recent criticisms, the most important seem to me to be that the Air Ministry now proposes to take more land than was originally intended. This point was raised by the hon. Member for Govan (Mr. Rankin). The facts are these. On North Uist we expect to need fewer than 300 acres of land, compared with our earlier estimate of 500 acres. On Benbecula we sought planning clearance for the use of 280 acres; we now think that we shall need rather fewer than 150 acres, almost all of which we already own.
650 On South Uist the total area to be acquired is some 500 acres more than we first estimated in the summer of 1955. There has, however, been no increase since our representatives called on the crofters and formal planning clearance was sought and obtained last year—no increase since then; and, most important, there has been no increase in the area that will be completely lost to the crofting community.
I must emphasise that most of the land that we need will still be available to them. Of the main area needed for the range head about 1,400 acres are at present being used for crofting. Of these, no more than 300 acres will be fenced off. Of the remainder, about half will continue to be available for grazing and half for quite unrestricted use. Moreover the work, especially drainage work, to be carried out on the range head should eventually improve the quality of the land, so that the loss of some land will be partly compensated by better productivity from the remainder.
A further point of recent criticism has been the allegation that up to 9,000 Service men, including their families, will flood into the area. My right hon. Friend and I are unable to trace where that figure came from. The hon. Member for the Western Isles correctly mentioned 4,000 in his speech. That is the peak Service population—4,000. This calculation is, of course, based on present plans, and no person in my position could guarantee that the figures might not be different, either a little up or down, at this period of time. However, I think that the Committee may be sure that in these days of manpower economy the Services are as keen as anybody to keep the figures down rather than up.
No one would pretend that this project will have no effect on local communities and their way of life; but we do claim that we are doing everything possible to cut down the disadvantages. Moreover, there must be in the long run certain good effects. Preliminary work on the improvement of roads is already in train. The county council has begun the extension of piped water supplies. I hope that that will scotch the rumour—if I may use that term—that water was to be cut off. Far from being cut off, the water supplies will be extended.
651 A larger local market for farming produce will be created, and we will take into account the suggestion of the hon. Member on that point. Improved electricity supplies will be available. These are no mean amenities for the local community. Perhaps the Committee will forgive me if I again point out that even the objection meeting could not have taken place if the R.A.F. had not visited the island some time before.
The position now is that the proposals of the Air Ministry to take over the land used by the crofters are before the Scottish Land Court at this moment. It will be the duty of the court, in considering them, to hear any representations which the crofters may have to make. I understand that the Land Court will shortly visit the islands for this purpose. In addition, I will willingly arrange for further discussion between Government officers and the crofters, if that would help in any way to remove any misapprehensions that remain about the effect of our proposals.
My right hon. Friend, in company with the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, is planning to go up to the islands himself. I should like to suggest that, with the permission of the House and of Mr. Speaker, we should put models and photographs on display in the Library; and, what is perhaps more important, that we should put on display at a convenient place in these islands not the charts—because it is difficult for a simple person to follow architectural drawings—but a model, so that the crofters can see for themselves exactly what is involved.
Over a considerable period of time, nearly two years, we have taken infinite pains to try to set at rest the understandable fears of the local people.
§ Mr. Rankin
In view of his statement to the Committee tonight, would the hon. Gentleman not agree that it is unfortunate that the reports which appeared in the Press have been so inaccurate?
I think it is very fortunate that the hon. Member, in raising the matter in the House, has given my right hon. Friend and me the opportunity of setting the facts before the public; and I hope that they will be repeated in the Press, because I agree with much of what he said about the reports.
§ Mr. Hughes
Has the hon. Gentleman's attention been drawn to the speech of Lord Saltoun in another place in which he assured the Highland Panel that an opportunity would be given for a public inquiry? Will there be a public inquiry?
My attention has been drawn to that statement, and also to the reply of Sir Edward Appleton, the Principal of Edinburgh University, in the Glasgow Herald. He said:Edinburgh University have definitely not put forward any representations opposing the setting up of a rocket range at South Uist I understand, however, that the School of Scottish Studies are trying to amass details about the culture at South Uist with greater speed because of the introduction of these other interests.That was a firm denial by the Principal of the University concerned.
We have had a very wide debate on this subject, and it is only fair that I should turn to other matters.
§ Mr. M. MacMillan
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for the full statement that he has given and for the reassurance which he has been good enough to give, too, but may I remind him that this request for a public inquiry was the heart and core of the meeting, the demonstration and the resolution sent to him? It is the only thing which would go any great way to reassure the local people on the apprehensions which they have. Perhaps we might be able to extend the consultations and visits to something in the nature of a hearing where at least the local people might meet the senior officials and the Ministers concerned. I think that that is the very least that the hon. Gentleman should do.
I appreciate the hon. Member's arguments, but I am not authorised to give such an undertaking at this stage. I have explained the position in great detail, and I hope that the hon. Member will perhaps explain some of the facts to those who are legitimately worried.
I should now like to turn very quickly, because there is not much time left, to some of the other points raised in the debate. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) is not in his place. I knew that he was suffering from 653 an illness; he overcame the sound barrier quite well, but when his temperature rose to 103 degrees the heat barrier got him down, and he has retired to bed. I am sure that he has our sympathy. The hon. Member asked whether the discretion which was given in 1947 to all commanding officers to abolish central pay parades was being used. In some stations or some parts of stations, where a section or a flight is widely dispersed, pay parades are still held, but only where a commanding officer is satisfied that that will save time. We have experimented with pay packets as opposed to pay rolls, but our conclusion has been that they offer no real advantage. They save time in payment, but they take up a great deal more time in preparation in the pay offices.
The hon. Member also asked whether we were adapting the Service to take full account of the status of engineers and technicians in modern society. Since I took over my position at the Air Ministry I have paid a good deal of attention to this matter, and I have recently visited both Henlow and Halton, which are the two cradles, as it were, of the technical structure of the Royal Air Force. I can assure the hon. Member that great attention is being paid to the calibre of the engineers whom we are training, and to their status. It is perhaps worthy of note that the Controller of Engineering and Equipment is an air marshal in the technical branch, so that the cadet who joins today can rise to air marshal rank in the technical field. There need be no limit to his advance.
The hon. Member for Lincoln raised one other point, which has also been raised by a number of back benchers, about flying practice for senior officers. The short answer is that for officers up to the rank of group captain it is not laid down that a certain number of flying hours per year must be carried out. They have to keep in practice, because they may be required to take on an important posting in which that is essential, but it is not laid down that they should draw flying pay only if they have done a hard and fast number of hours flying.
Many hon. Gentlemen, particularly the hon. Member for Uxbridge, raised points about the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, and I think it is right to devote a few minutes 654 to that very important subject. In answer to many questions, my right hon. Friend has, over the past few weeks, given a great deal of information, and I think that probably this is a good opportunity to bring all this information together in a single speech.
I should first like to pay tribute, as so many others have done, to the excellent work and splendid spirit of these units. We are all profoundly conscious that the Royal Auxiliary Air Force made an unforgettable contribution to the mastery achieved by our Air Force in the Second World War. The auxiliaries inflicted a great part of the losses sustained by the enemy in the Battle of Britain, and throughout the war auxiliary units in many rôles and in many theatres acquitted themselves with unsurpassed valour and distinction. T0hese are facts of which auxiliary personnel, past and present, are justly proud. For our part, we in every part of this Committee and throughout the country owe lasting admiration and gratitude, not only to the war-time auxiliaries, but also to those who since the war have contributed to the strength of our defences by their skill and their enthusiasm for voluntary service.
It was, therefore, with the greatest possible regret that the Government decided to disband the greater part of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force. This decision was taken purely on the basis of priorities. We had to decide whether the money which would be needed to convert pilots to Hunters and keep them in flying practice in those aircraft would be better spent in that way or on Regular units. That was the choice.
If we had kept the auxiliaries, even by training them on Regular squadron aircraft, we should have had to stand down trained Regular pilots. The same aircraft cannot be flown for seven days a week, and Regular Hunter pilots would have had to stand down during the week whilst the aircraft were serviced and prepared by Regular airmen for weekend flying. We decided that the Regular units must come first, and I am sure that that decision was right.
Before making that decision, we did consider possible alternative rôles. Many alternatives have been put forward from time to time, and some of these have been resubmitted by hon. Members during the debate. In every case there 655 were either operational, administrative or financial obstacles to these proposals. For example, equipment with transport aircraft was considered, but the fitting of auxiliary pilots in with other members of the crew, and the problem that transport operations do not necessarily fit themselves into a single weekend, ruled out that proposal. It is far from easy to assemble all the auxiliary members of a multi-crew aircraft in the same place at the same time on the same day, and hon. Members in different parts of the Committee will have had experience of that before the war, when some Auxiliary squadrons were equipped with Blenheims.
I would now like to reply to the point made by several hon. Members, and particularly the hon. Member for Uxbridge, about the manner in which the disbandment has been carried through. Certainly, disbandment is following very closely on the announcement. That was absolutely deliberate. Once the unhappy decision had been announced, training was bound to lack realism, and the squadrons had too distinguished a history for a long-drawn-out ending of that kind. A clean, sharp ending does mean that the squadrons do not linger on with an ever-declining morale.
I want now to turn to the particular accusation of discourtesy in the manner of disbandment, and I think that when I have explained the position, hon. Members may agree that that is not altogether a just criticism. Letters were sent out on 9th January last to the honorary air commodores and the chairmen and vice-chairmen of the Territorial Associations concerned warning them that an announcement was to be made. On the 10th, commanding officers were invited to come at 11.30 a.m. to the Air Ministry. They assembled there and were seen personally by the Chief of Air Staff, who explained to them the sad decision, and asked them to go back and explain these facts to the members of their squadrons.
Most people will agree that the squadrons' farewell parades have been impressive ceremonies. They have been attended by honorary air commodores, Royal Air Force commanders, local civic dignitaries and others. At one such parade only yesterday the salute was taken by His Royal Highness Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh. As the House knows, Her Majesty the Queen 656 has graciously expressed the wish to receive all squadron commanders of the units to be disbanded at Buckingham Palace on Saturday week, 16th March, and later the same day my right hon. Friend and I and other members of the Air Council will he entertaining the commanding officers and other senior officers to dinner in the House of Commons. Great pains have been taken in this matter, and the decision was by no means as cruel and sudden as has been suggested.
Finally, may I say how particularly hard it was that this decision should have to be carried out by my right hon. Friend? For many years he was a very active member of an auxiliary squadron and it is a strange coincidence that during that period the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Dermot Boyle was adjutant of the same auxiliary squadron. All our instincts, all our sentiments, and all our loyalties were working towards the retention or alternative employment of these units. Unfortunately, logic and economics have had to over-rule our emotions.
§ Mr. Beswick
The dinner in the Harcourt Room will not include the men. Has any consideration been given to having a final parade in London for the whole of the force? What about the suggestion that there shold be some decoration for those who have served in these squadrons?
A general parade was considered, but after taking advice, it was decided that as these were territorial units with geographical loyalties, it was better that these parades should take place in the places to which they owed allegiance and from which they drew support. We felt that that was better than a central parade. My right hon. Friend would like notice of the other point, and if a Question were put down he would gladly answer it.
I wish to deal shortly with a number of other points. I do apologise for keeping the House for so long, but an Adjournment debate was brought forward into this debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas) spoke about Jet Provosts and the Miles 100 Mark III. I was glad to hear that he agreed that we were taking the right decision in deciding in 657 favour of the Jet Provost. That was decided, as he said, after the most exhaustive and satisfactory tests. He referred to the Miles 100 Mark III, and asked that we should not altogether ignore it now that we have placed an order for the Jet Provosts. We shall, of course, follow its progress with considerable interest, and will certainly wish to have an assessment of its performance when it has carried out its initial tests. But given the time scale of the development of these two aircraft, it would have been entirely wrong to have delayed the introduction of a jet trainer into the Royal Air Force until we had had time to consider the Miles 100.
Three hon. Members raised the matter of Royal Air Force raincoats—the hon. Member for Govan, who has gone, the hon. Member for Lincoln, who is now in bed, and one other hon. Member. This point has been raised on a number of occasions. Naturally, we should like to give raincoats free to every airman, but the cost would be between £1 million and £2 million, with a recurring cost of up to £1 million each year. I am afraid that that is a concession which we feel obliged to forgo. The present arrangements are that an airman can buy a gaberdine raincoat at a cost of £5 15s. If we gave them free, the total cost of the uniform would be more than £33, which is a figure to which we cannot afford to go at the moment.
The hon. Member for Bristol, South-East, the hon. Member for Lincoln, the hon. Member for Uxbridge, and a number of my hon. Friends raised the question of secrecy. I remember this point being raised in all the seven debates in which I have taken part upon the Air Estimates. It has always been raised by the Opposition and it has always been rebutted by the Government of the day, but a new factor has come increasingly into the reckoning.
It is true, as some of my hon. Friends have said, that the detailed information on which the Government's defence decisions are based would be of value and interest to a potential enemy as well as to this House. It is also true that in these days of increasingly close co-operation with our allies, both in planning and in common equipment, we cannot always 658 please ourselves about our announcements; they have to be co-ordinated with those of our allies. Nevertheless, my right hon. Friend is very conscious that the House is entitled to the fullest possible information which the national interest permits, and that any failure to do justice to that right will obviously inhibit our discussions. He will bear that point constantly in mind.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Air Commodore Harvey), my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) and the hon. and gallant Member for Derby, North (Group Captain Wilcock) all raised the very important question of the future of Transport Command. A year ago my predecessor gave details of the Command's three-year expansion programme. That programme entailed the tripling of what might be called the crude airlift capacity of Transport Command, that is, trebling the number of passengers which can be carried at any one time. Taking account of the increased range and speed of the new types of aircraft coming into service, this programme represented far more than a threefold increase.
The expansion is being carried out on time. The advent of the Comet squadron and the Beverleys in the past year has doubled the capacity of the Command in terms of seats. The Comet has now flown more than 1 million miles in Royal Air Force service. I wish that that fact could be given more publicity, because some harsh things have been said of the Comet, and it is now doing wonderful work for the Royal Air Force. Eight Comets are in service, and two more will be coming in in the next few weeks.
As for the Beverley, despite the tragic accident which occurred early this week—upon which I do not wish to comment now—we are convinced that this versatile aircraft has a long and useful Service life ahead of it. We look forward also to the introduction of the first squadron of Britannias. These are large, efficient, and rather expensive aircraft, but they will serve the needs of the Air Force extremely well.
One hon. Member asked what type of Britannia we were getting. I believe that it is Type 253, specially adapted for Air Force requirements; it can carry both passengers and freight.
I am sorry, but I cannot answer the right hon. Gentleman without notice. I think he would agree that when he was making similar speeches from this Box and was pressed for dates of which he was not sure he was wise enough not to stick his neck out that far.
The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton), in a most sympathetic and interesting speech, raised the question of the integration of the three Services. I believe that it would be wrong to start any integration—the hon. Member mentioned medicine in particular—until the general shape of our three Services is revealed in the Defence White Paper which is expected in a few weeks' time. Once that is done various economies and the possibilities of integration will obviously be most carefully explored. I agree with the hon. Member that it is appropriate to pay tribute to the work of the School of Aviation Medicine. As the speed of our aircraft increases and the strain upon our pilots increases with it, it is of vital importance that we should carefully examine all the organic and psychological factors which affect our pilots.
I end with the question of transport aircraft because I feel that with the new shape of our Air Force, and with its streamlining, nothing was more important than to keep in our minds the need for an efficient transport force—both a theatre force and a strategic force. It may not be generally appreciated that our aircraft, as I have announced them and as they have been announced in past debates, fall into two categories. There are obviously the local theatre transport types, such as the Scottish Pioneer, which are very useful where there are no runways and we have to fight or contribute to security operations, as in Kenya or Malaya. Side by side with that, 660 there is a big strategic transport force, to be made up eventually of Britannias and Comets, which have a much longer range and which can carry our forces wherever they may have to go.
Field Marshal Lord Montgomery said, in an extremely thought-provoking speech in 1954:…the dominant factor in future war will be air power.Later in the same speech he said:The greatest asset of air power is its flexibility.A flexible force must be flexible-minded; it must grasp new concepts, new weapons, new operational methods and new organisation. Since its birth the R.A.F. has continually changed its shape. This is no new departure which we are hearing of today. The R.A.F. has continually changed its shape, and its size, to meet the defence needs of the day, and to take advantage of scientific developments. My right hon. Friend and I are convinced that it will meet the challenge of the nuclear age and that, in doing so, it will strengthen not only its own noble traditions, but, more important, it will strengthen the chances of world peace.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That a number of officers, airmen and airwomen, not exceeding 240,000, all ranks, be maintained for Air Force Service, during the year ending on the 31st day of March, 1958.